AIN ISSA, Syria (UPDATED) – Syria’s Kurds on Monday, March 25, called for an international court to be set up in the country to try suspected Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq) jihadists following the announced fall of their “caliphate.”
ISIS imposed its brutal interpretation of Islam on millions living in the proto-state that it declared across a large swathe of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.
The extremists stand accused of carrying out numerous crimes including mass executions, kidnappings and rape.
“We call on the international community to establish a special international tribunal in northeast Syria to prosecute terrorists,” the Syria Kurdish administration said.
In this way, “trials can be conducted fairly and in accordance with international law and human rights covenants and charters,” it said in a statement.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday, March 23, announced the end of the “caliphate” after defeating ISIS jihadists in the eastern village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
Kurdish-led forces, backed by a US-led coalition, have detained thousands of suspected ISIS fighters in more than 4 years battling the jihadists, including around 1,000 foreigners.
While alleged ISIS fighters are held in jail, women and children suspected of being affiliated to the group are housed in Kurdish-run camps for the displaced.
More than 9,000 foreigners, including over 6,500 children, were held in the main camp of Al-Hol, a Kurdish spokesman said, giving the latest figures from a week ago.
The Kurdish administration has repeatedly called for the repatriation of foreign ISIS suspects, and warned it does not have capacity to detain so many people.
But the home countries of suspected ISIS members have been reluctant to take them back, due to potential security risks and a likely public backlash.
“The Kurdish administration in northeast Syria has appealed to the international community to shoulder its responsibilities” with regards to ISIS suspects, it said Monday.
“But unfortunately there was no response.”
It urged the international community, particularly countries that have nationals detained, to support the establishment of an international tribunal.
A top foreign official for the Kurdish administration said foreign experts could work side by side with local judges.
“They could be foreign judges working with local judges and be experts in crimes committed by terrorist groups,” Abdel Karim Omar told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Previous international courts include the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which tried genocide perpetrators in the African country.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia meanwhile tried those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in conflicts that tore apart the Balkans in the 1990s.
Joel Hubrecht, a Paris-based expert in transitional justice expert, said setting up an special tribunal to judge ISIS was a good idea in theory in view of the international dimension of its alleged crimes.
“The idea of an international criminal court is relevant and interesting,” he told AFP.
“But in northeast Syria it’s not realistic.”
The Syrian Kurdish authorities are not internationally recognized, setting up such a tribunal usually takes time, and ensuring witness protection is tough in a war-torn country, he said.
Despite the declared victory against ISIS in Baghouz, the jihadists still maintain a presence in the country’s vast desert and have continued to claim deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.
President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have made a territorial comeback against rebels and jihadists with key Russian backing since 2015, but the war is far from over.
The battle to end the “caliphate” has triggered an exodus of tens of thousands of people – mainly women and children – out of crumbling ISIS territory, sparked a humanitarian crisis.
The main camp in Al-Hol is now bursting at the seams, housing more than 70,000 people – in a place designed for just 20,000.
“Humanitarian conditions in Hol camp are extremely critical,” World Food Programme spokeswoman Marwa Awad said Monday.
At least 140 people – overwhelmingly young children – have died on the way to the camp or shortly after arriving, the International Rescue Committee aid group says.
The Kurdish administration on Monday called on the United Nations to improve living conditions at the Al-Hol camp.
It particularly called for more humanitarian assistance, expanding the camp, and better water and sewage networks.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Apart from fighting ISIS, the Kurds have largely stayed out of the civil war, instead setting up their own semi-autonomous institutions in the northeast of the country. – Rappler.com