A US government commission has recommended in their annual report that Turkey submit a timeline for withdrawal of its troops from Syria, that the US Government support the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), that the US State Department re-designate Syria as an area of concern for religious freedom, that Turkey be put on a special watch list, and that the US sanctions be lifted for North and East Syria. The commission also condemned via Twitter Turkey’s genocidal policies and human rights violations in North and East Syria.
Sinam Sherkany Mohamad, Co-Chief of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council, participated in a conference hosted by the commission, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), on the day the report was released. Members of the US Mission of the SDC have been meeting with the USCIRF for several years to underscore the commitment of the AANES to international religious freedom.
The USCIRF has repeatedly called upon the US State Department to classify Syria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom. If this re-classification were successful, additional powers would be available to the US government in its policy towards Syria.
During the USCIRF conference, Mohamad posed questions to the speakers on the Turkish occupation of North and East Syria. In reply, the speakers emphasized their condemnation for the occupation. An interview with USCIRF staff in an article published on Al-Monitor further underscores the recommendations of the report.
“USCIRF condemns the resettlement of families of Turkish-backed fighters into NE Syria, ethnically cleansing villages of #Yazidis & others. #Turkey & its FSA allies must withdraw from NES & cease such violations of religious freedom & other human rights,” the USCIRF tweeted from its official Twitter account.
The AANES earned positive remarks from Nadine Maenza, Vice Chair of the USCIRF. “For the Autonomous Admin of N & E Syria ‘To create a govt that emphasizes tolerance for religious freedom in the neighborhood they’re in, it’s a remarkable thing. It is a place that could be a sanctuary for religious minorities…to practice their faiths,’” tweeted Maenza.
The 2020 Report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom was released on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The report calls AANES “a crucial center of positive religious freedom conditions in Syria.” Its “Recommendations to the US Government” for Syria were the following:
• Designate Syria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA);
• Designate Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) as an “entity of particular concern,” or EPC, for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by IRFA, rather than limiting the EPC designation only to its al-Nusra Front subsidiary;
• Provide assistance to support Syria’s vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities under the terms of the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-300); utilize the resources enacted under the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-441), and release the full amount of the additional $50 million that the White House announced in mid-October;
• Exert significant pressure on Turkey to provide a timeline for its withdrawal from Syria, while ensuring that neither its military nor FSA allies expand their area of control in northeast Syria, carry out religious and ethnic cleansing of that area, or otherwise abuse the rights of vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities there; and
• Expand U.S. engagement with and assistance to the AANES, including examining a potential sanctions exemption for only AANES-governed areas as well as contributing to efforts, through relevant nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and like-minded international partners, to fund and develop local programs to promote intra- and inter-religious tolerance, alleviate sectarian tensions, and advance religious freedom and related rights.