Amnesty International said Tuesday that U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria may have committed war crimes by forcing thousands of people from their homes and knocking down buildings.
Among the strongest accusations in its report are quotes from civilians who said they were threatened with airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition of militaries if they did not leave.
Amnesty said its researchers visited 14 towns and villages in Hasakeh and Raqqa provinces in July and August, in addition to reviewing satellite photos of areas under the control of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG.
"We saw extensive displacement and destruction that did not occur as a result of fighting," Amnesty Senior Crisis Adviser Lama Fakih said. "This report uncovers clear evidence of a deliberate, coordinated campaign of collective punishment of civilians in villages previously captured by IS [Islamic State], or where a small minority were suspected of supporting the group."
Most of the displaced were Arabs and Turkmen, and Amnesty said they were often pushed out in retaliation for perceived ties to Islamic State members or sympathies for the militant group that has controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq for more than a year.
The report cited a YPG spokesman saying civilians were moved out of areas for their own protection. But Amnesty also reported that many residents said their villages had not been the scene of fighting or even close to the front lines.
Amnesty called on the Kurds to stop demolishing civilian homes and to compensate those whose homes have been "unlawfully destroyed." It also urged the U.S.-led coalition and others coordinating with the Kurds to not ignore abuses.
"They must take a public stand condemning forced displacement and unlawful demolitions and ensure their military assistance is not contributing to violations of international humanitarian law," Fakih said.