The experts reminded the 57 states with nationals in the camps that the repatriation process must be carried out in accordance with international human-rights law. (AFP/File)
Human-rights experts say not only are some countries ignoring responsibilities, they are creating the perfect conditions for radicalization
More than 90,000 people, mostly women and children related to Daesh fighters, live in increasingly desperate conditions in detention camps
February 10, 2021
NEW YORK: UN human-rights experts on Tuesday urged 57 countries whose nationals are detained in the notorious Al-Hol and Roj detention camps in northeastern Syria to repatriate them “without delay.”
They warned that failure to do so could be tantamount to torture under international law.
The experts raised the alarm about the worsening security situation and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the overcrowded camps, which are home to more than 90,000 Syrians, Iraqis and “third-country nationals.” Most are women and children with family connections to Daesh fighters.
The majority of residents were moved to the camps in 2019 following the defeat of Daesh in the eastern province of Deir Ez-Zor, the group’s last stronghold. However several thousand have been in Al-Hol since 2016.
“The continued detention, on unclear grounds, of women and children in the camps is a matter of grave concern and undermines the progression of accountability, truth and justice,” said 12 special rapporteurs in a joint statement.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities and on a voluntary basis at the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.
They painted a bleak picture of life in the camps, where an unknown number of detainees have already died because of the poor conditions. They highlighted high levels of violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation — and said nations that continue to allow their citizens to be subjected to such conditions might be guilty of torture under international law.
“Knowingly leaving nationals outside the protection of the rule of law is both a possible contravention of the state’s obligations under international human-rights law, and risks being counterproductive,” the experts said.
Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, an Irish lawyer specializing in human rights law, is a special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
She told Arab News: “When you leave thousands of women and children in an arid desert in subhuman conditions, without access to education, health or even the most basic human-rights protections, you create the conditions conducive for radicalization and violence, (particularly among) younger people in the camps, given the lack of exit opportunities for them.
“It does not take a UN human rights expert body for states to understand that. So if states are thinking about their long-term security interests, as concerns their nationals (in the camps), they would repatriate (them). Because if they leave the situation as it is, the danger and the security issues will only increase — not only for the individuals in the camps but for the broader security of the states concerned.”
During the most recent meeting of the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, members were asked to address this issue of foreign nationals held in the camps. British ambassador Barbara Woodward reiterated that the UK government is opposed to repatriating its citizens from the camps on the grounds that alleged criminals should be prosecuted in the country where the crime took place.
But Ní Aoláin said: “There is zero chance that there will be trials in northeastern Syria. It is obvious to everyone that neither Syria nor Iraq are capable of running the scale and complexity of trials that are involved, if such trials are justified.
“There are deep and profound concerns about fair trials being run in either of those states. And I take it that we do not assume that the non-state actors will be running trials on behalf of the states. So this (the British argument) is an illusionary argument because no trials are forthcoming.
“What it allows certain states to do is to pretend to create a facade of accountability, when the only real accountability for victims of terrorism in Iraq and Syria is the return of those people who have committed such crimes to countries that are capable of running these trials.”
The rapporteurs also raised concerns about the large-scale collection of sensitive, personal biometric data from women and children by the Syrian Democratic Forces in July last year.
“We have concerns that this data was shared with countries of origin and that no consent to the data collection or sharing was given by the women and children who were subjected to it,” said Ní Aoláin.
“We are deeply concerned that the data collection and sharing will be used to further deprive these individuals of certain inalienable rights — including, for example, their rights to citizenship and their rights to be treated equally.”
The experts reminded the 57 states with nationals in the camps that the repatriation process must be carried out in accordance with international human-rights law, they must refrain from exposing individuals to further human-rights violations when they return home, and must actively support their social and psychological re-integration into society.
Ní Aoláin said the list of 57 countries that have failed to repatriate their citizens is “really a list of shame. It speaks to a collective security and human-rights failure by states.”
She added: “States should not want to be on this list — and many states are working actively, including during (the COVID-19 pandemic), to get themselves off this list.
“Some states are making no efforts in that regard but are engaging in what can only be described as pedantic justifications for a policy that is both a failed security policy and the human rights-deficient and morally bankrupt policy of failure to return their most vulnerable citizens to their countries of origin.”