Judging militants in Syrian Kurdistan: political hot potato

By AFP – May 17,2018 – JORDAN TIMES

A general view shows a camp where detained Daesh families are held in Ain Issa in the Syrian northern Kurdish region on February 15 (AFP photo)

Qamishli, Syria — Shunned by both their Western governments and their Kurdish jailers, foreign men and women who joined Daesh are lingering in detention in northern Syria.

When the militant group’s self-proclaimed caliphate crumbled in 2017, the Kurdish forces that govern swathes of Syria’s north rounded up thousands of Daesh fighters from 40 different countries.

It was up to local courts to try them, but so far only native hardliners have been sentenced.

Last year, judge Rasho Kanaan and his colleagues tried more than 800 alleged militants, all Syrian, in the Kurdish-run town of Qamishli.

Sitting in his office in an unremarkable rectangular building, Kanaan says he is not keen to process the foreigners.

“We already have plenty of other prisoners to manage,” Kanaan tells AFP.

He says the legal system in northern Syria, which operates independently of regime institutions based in Damascus, “is made to judge locals, not foreigners”.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military force that controls much of northern Syria, is more direct.

“All these foreign prisoners are a burden for us,” YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmoud says.

But the Kurds appear stuck with them.

With European public opinion hostile to repatriating homegrown extremists, governments are not eager to reclaim radicalised citizens detained abroad.

“Denmark, Canada and Switzerland say they are ready to take women and children. But on condition that it’s not done publicly,” says Nadim Houry, director of terrorism and counterterrorism for Human Rights Watch.

The watchdog estimates there are thousands of foreigners in Kurdish detention, including around 800 women and 1,200 children.

According to the Kurds, only Russia and Indonesia have agreed to take back their detainees, mostly women and children.

Prisoners ‘not priority’

France insists any adults among the more than 40 French nationals held by Kurdish authorities should be tried where they are, so long as they face a “fair trial”.

Among them is Thomas Barnouin, an alleged Daesh fighter who was captured in December by Syrian Kurdish forces.

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Categories: Arab World, Asia, Iraq, Syria

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