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  • Damaged buildings during the security operations and clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in Diyarbakir, Turkey Jan. 16, 2016

    Damaged buildings during the security operations and clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in Diyarbakir, Turkey Jan. 16, 2016 | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 February 2016

The U.N.’s top human rights official urged Turkey to respect fundamental human rights and investigate forces shooting at civilians in the Kurdish region.

Turkish authorities must “respect fundamental rights” of civilians who are being targeted as part of a Turkish military operation in the country’s southeast, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Monday.

Hussein specifically referred to what he called “extremely shocking” footage of Turkish security forces shooting at a group of people, including elderly men and women, waving white flags in the Kurdish town of Cizre in the southeast on Jan. 20.

“I am urging Turkish authorities to respect the fundamental rights of civilians in its security operations and to promptly investigate the alleged shooting of a group of unarmed people in the southeastern town of Cizre after shocking video footage emerged last week," Zeid told a news briefing in Geneva.

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In the footage, the civilian group are seen navigating around bodies on the streets as gunfire breaks out and they duck for cover. The camera falls to the ground and a pool of blood forms. The video was widely shared on social media websites in the country.

"They are apparently cut down in a hail of gunfire," Zeid said and expressed concerns the cameraman who filmed the incident might have been arrested.

"Filming an atrocity is not a crime, but shooting unarmed civilians most certainly is."

At least 10 people were wounded in the incident and the group included two opposition figures from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

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HDP’s co-chair Selahattin Demirtas said the group of 15 civilians included HDP Sirnak deputy Faysal Sariyildiz, who took refuge in the basement of a building in Cizre after they went to the town.

For months, Cizre and other cities in the southeast have been under curfew due to clashes between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters.

The recent incident and the U.N.’s comments come amid increasing violence in Turkey’s majority Kurdish southeast regions as the Turkish military has been involved in a major operation against the PKK since last summer. More than 160 civilians have been killed since August, according to the Turkish Human Rights Commission.

ANALYSIS: A History of the Turkish-Kurdish Conflict

A two-year cease-fire and peace talks between PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish government collapsed when violence was renewed in July last year, with Ankara launching a major aerial and ground operation against the guerrilla group.

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