Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters in Shingal. AP file photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has denied that it recruits child soldiers, responding to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday
, and said that it is the victim of a smear campaign trying to force the PKK out of the Shingal area.
“First of all, we would like to state that we are deeply saddened as a well-known human rights organization like HRW has been an instrument to such a scenario that has nothing to do with the truth,” the People’s Defense Center (HSM) Headquarters Command said in a statement, as reported by ANF media which is close to the PKK.
HRW said it had documented 29 cases in which Kurdish and Yezidi children were recruited by the PKK’s armed wing, the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), and the Shingal Protection Units (YBS) in the Kurdistan Region.
“The PKK should categorically denounce the recruitment and use of child soldiers," said Zama Coursen-Neff, children’s rights director at HRW, "commanders in affiliated armed groups should know that the recruitment and use of children under age 15 constitute war crimes."
The PKK is a signatory party to the Geneva Call, an international nongovernmental organization that promotes adherence to the laws of war by armed groups, including prohibiting child soldiers. The HSM, in their statement, said that they “strictly abide” by all international agreements, adding that representatives of Geneva Call have conducted on-site examinations of PKK camps.
“Despite the rare participation of underage youths in our ranks without our approval, our movement has laid emphasis on this issue and made efforts to fulfill the convention we are a party to. There are no fighters aged under 16 in our ranks. Those youths aged 16-17 who were forced to join our ranks after fleeing the repression and violence of the Turkish state are not involved in the battle by our movement, and these are receiving training in areas outside the battle field,” reads the HSM statement.
The HSM added that HRW researchers had not visited PKK camps or carried out on-site inspections and stressed that the PKK has no “organic” ties with the YBS and is not responsible for their activities.
The HSM decried what it called fabricated news coverage of the HRW report and said it was part of a “smear campaign against the Kurdish movement and its defense forces” in order to push the PKK out of Shingal and the Kurdistan Region.
ISIS captured Shingal on August 3, 2014, committing genocide against the Yezidi population. Shingal was liberated in November 2015 by a coalition of Kurdish forces, including KRG Peshmerga and PKK fighters. The PKK has maintained a presence in the area.
Kurdistan Region leaders have recently stepped up pressure on the PKK to leave the Shingal area, saying that rehabilitation of the town is not possible as long as the PKK remains.
The people of Shingal are hesitant about their future as long as the PKK is present in the area, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said at a conference earlier this month. As long as the PKK is there, the people of Shingal “do not reconstruct the town. The PKK should understand that and, for the good of the people, they have to leave the region.”
Barzani reiterated this in an interview with Amberin Zaman published Saturday in Al-Monitor. “The presence of PKK forces in Sinjar will only add to instability in the area and nothing more,” he said, adding that the local people do not want the PKK to remain.
When asked if he might consider using military force to expel the PKK, Barzani replied, “Yes, I am.”
The HSM, in their statement, said that their HPG forces, “taking all the risks,” saved the Yezidis of Shingal from an even bigger massacre at the hands of ISIS, rescuing thousands in August 2014.