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UN human rights chief calls for IS group families to be repatriated

Cristian Hernandez, AFP | UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet

Tens of thousands of captured IS group fighters and their families should be repatriated, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday, challenging France and other European countries that have been reticent to see combatants return.

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Bachelet said that 55,000 captured Islamic State (IS) group fighters, including foreigners, and their families detained in Syria and Iraq should face fair trials or be freed.

States “must assume responsibility for their nationals” and should not inflict the “irresponsible cruelty” of statelessness on fighters’ children who have already suffered so much, Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council as it opened a three-week session in Geneva.

The 55,000 include suspected foreign fighters from nearly 50 countries and 11,000 family members held at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria “in deeply sub-standard conditions”, she said.

“Accountability through fair trials protects societies from future radicalisation and violence,” Bachelet said. “And the continuing detention of individuals not suspected of crimes, in the absence of [a] lawful basis and regular independent judicial review, is not acceptable,” Bachelet said.

Authorities in northeast Syria have been urging Western countries to take back citizens who joined the IS group and their relatives after the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured the group’s last enclave this year.

“Foreign family members should be repatriated unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards. Children, in particular, have suffered grievous violations of their rights including those who may have been indoctrinated or recruited by ISIL [another acronym for IS group] to perpetrate violent acts,” Bachelet said.

Unpopular returns

Few states have seemed willing to take back their citizens, who may be hard to prosecute, and the issue has led to fierce debate in their home countries where there is little public sympathy for the families of jihadists.

The United States, France and the Netherlands have each repatriated a small number of women or children from northeast Syria, but many others remain stranded and some children born during the conflict have been left stateless.

Earlier on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that eight children of two slain IS group fighters had been removed from Syria to an unspecified location before planned repatriation to Australia. It would mark the country's first organised repatriation from the conflict zone.

Groups of French children were returned to France earlier this month, along with at least three adults who were immediately detained for questioning. A dozen Frenchmen have been sentenced to death in Iraq.

“I urge all states to assume responsibility for their nationals, and to work together to provide resources to help the relevant authorities and actors in Syria and Iraq to address urgent humanitarian needs,” Bachelet said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)

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