According to the HRW report published on Friday, radical groups enter Syria from Turkey with weapons and other supplies and then return to Turkey for medical treatment. “We totally deny the claims that those groups enter Syria from Turkey and that Turkey provides them with weapons. It is wholly unacceptable to paint Turkey with such accusations. Turkey is doing its utmost to maintain security along the border and is carrying out operations to prevent smuggling,” a senior Turkish diplomat from the Foreign Ministry told Today's Zaman on the condition of anonymity.
After Turkey unilaterally closed its Syrian border and the Turkish military stepped up security measures due to the civil war in the neighboring country, smuggling along the border has increased -- a situation that has led to several confrontations between smugglers and Turkish soldiers.
The report adds that Turkey should increase its border patrols and prevent the entry of fighters and weapons bound for groups that are implicated in systematic human rights violations.
“No one can apply pressure on Turkey. Turkey is carrying the responsibility of Syrian refugees and the border problems on its shoulders without the support of the international community,” said the anonymous diplomat.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Muammer Güler dismissed claims that Turkey had opened its border gates because of threats from terrorist organizations, saying that Turkey did not open any border gate and would do no such thing at the insistence of any terrorist organization.
“The Turkish Republic would never open a border gate on the demand of a terrorist organization,” said Güler, explaining that the border gates are closed except to those bringing humanitarian aid.
The HRW report also called Turkey to investigate and prosecute, under the principle of universal jurisdiction and in accordance with national laws, anyone in Turkey suspected of committing, being complicit in or having command responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Action would definitely be taken against a person who has committed a crime. It is impossible for anyone suspected of committing crimes to be left unaccountable in Turkey. No one can accuse Turkey of this. Those making accusations should give proof,” said the diplomat.
Turkey, which has been a staunch supporter of the Syrian opposition fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, is accused of providing logistical support to two al-Qaeda-linked groups -- the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Ankara has said several times that its stance towards the developments in Syria are clear and that it will not take part in the ongoing fighting, denying claims that it supports radical Islamist groups operating in Syria.
The HRW report urged the UN Security Council (UNSC) and Turkey's allies to call on Turkey in particular to do more to verify that no arms are passing across its borders to terrorist groups. Anyone providing or selling arms and military assistance to the groups may be complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity, said the report, which adds that governments should also not permit the use of their national territory for the shipment of arms, ammunition and other materiel to these groups.
"The individuals or countries that are supporting these groups could be complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity if they continue to support them,” said Lama Fakih, Syria and Lebanon researcher at the HRW's Middle East and North Africa Division, in a video published on the HRW's website.
The HRW also emphasized that Syrian rebels killed at least 190 civilians and took more than 200 hostages during an offensive in Latakia province in August, in what it calls the first evidence of crimes against humanity by opposition forces. The HRW said many of the dead had been executed by militant groups, some linked to al-Qaeda, who overran army positions at dawn on Aug. 4 and then moved into 10 nearby villages inhabited by members of Assad's Alawite sect.
In its first government-sanctioned trip to Syria since the start of the conflict over two years ago, the New York-based HRW has documented a series of sectarian mass killings by embattled President Assad's enemies during a broader campaign in which Western-backed rebels took part.
In some cases, entire families were executed or gunned down as they fled, according to a report titled "You Can Still See Their Blood."
The HRW says that two opposition groups that took part in the offensive, ISIS and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, are still holding hostages, the vast majority of whom are women and children.
“The findings strongly suggest that the killings, hostage taking and other abuses rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the HRW said.
“These abuses were not the actions of rogue fighters,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at HRW. “This operation was a coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population in these Alawite villages.”
However, five groups that were the key fundraisers, organizers and executors of the attacks were clearly present at the outset of the operation on Aug. 4: Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS, the al-Nusra Front, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar and Suquor al-Izz.
The HRW concluded after multiple interviews, their onsite investigation and a review of opposition statements and videos that these five armed groups are responsible for specific incidents that amount to war crimes.
The HRW says the UNSC should impose an arms embargo on all groups against whom there is credible evidence of widespread or systematic abuses or crimes against humanity. The HRW also urged the UNSC to promote justice for the victims of abuse by referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“Syrian victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity have waited too long for the UNSC to send a clear message that those responsible for horrible abuses will be held to account,” Stork said. “The ICC referral is long overdue.”