BEIRUT - A Kurdish-Arab coalition in Syria on Sunday denied a Human Rights Watch report that it was recruiting children from displacement camps in the country’s northeast in violation of international law.
Thousands of people live in camps scattered across parts of Syria held by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed coalition that has played a key role in the fight against the Islamic State group.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which forms the backbone of the SDF, has used child soldiers in the past, according to the United Nations, HRW and other rights groups.
In a report published Friday, the New York-based watchdog again accused the YPG of recruiting minors.
The SDF’s political arm vowed to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for “individual” cases.
“We are against the recruitment of children under any pretext,” said the Syrian Democratic Council.
“What was mentioned in HRW’s press release is only irresponsible individual abuse, which does not represent the overall method or strategy of the Syrian Democratic Council.”
It said it would study the “allegations,” return any child recruits to their families and “hold accountable those responsible for these abuses.
International law prohibits nonstate armed factions from recruiting anyone under the age of 18, and enlisting children under 15 is a war crime.
HRW spoke to eight families in three displacement camps in northeastern Syria who said Kurdish militiamen and security forces had encouraged their children to enlist.
The youngest among them was a 13-year-old girl.
“We are poor, so they told my daughter they would give her money and clothes,” her mother told HRW. She objected, but her daughter enlisted in the forces and had not been heard from for around a month.
The YPG and the broader SDF coalition have seized large parts of northern Syria from IS after years of fierce fighting that displaced thousands of people.
A YPG-linked political administration runs much of northern Syria with a system that is autonomous from Damascus, complete with its own schools and tax system.
Kurdish authorities also enforce military conscription for those above 18 years of age in areas under their control.