An international tribunal to try foreign fighters of Islamic State: Is it necessary?


An international tribunal to try foreign fighters of Islamic State (IS) is an idea being discussed by some European States, led by Sweden. But Syrian human rights activists say any international court for Syria should try all parties to the conflict, including the Assad regime. Is such a tribunal, possibly in Iraq, likely, and what might it look like?

“We regret that efforts by the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court continue to be blocked. We therefore continue to consult with other countries and relevant actors on the possibility of establishing an international tribunal or similar mechanism, as a complement to national prosecutions,” Swedish Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg told JusticeInfo via E-mail. He hosted a meeting in Stockholm in early June to discuss the issue, attended by 11 European Union countries including the UK, France and Germany, plus Switzerland, but “no decisions were taken”, according to Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger.

The head of the UN special probe into IS crimes in Iraq, British lawyer Karim Khan, is also one of those calling for Nuremberg-style trials for IS to ensure their ideology is “debunked”. “Iraq and humanity requires its Nuremberg moment,” he told the AFP news agency. A fair trial for IS “can also contribute to separating the poison of IS from the Sunni community” and have an “educative effect, not only in the region, but in other parts of the world where communities may be vulnerable to the lies and propaganda of IS”.

Syrian lawyer and human rights activist Mazen Darwish, founder of the Violations Documentation Center, says an international court for just IS is a “very bad idea”, and his organisation has written to the Swedish government expressing this view. Whilst not opposed in principle to the idea of an international tribunal, he told JusticeInfo that it should have a mandate to try all parties involved in the Syrian conflict, “especially the Syrian government”, otherwise it could send a bad message and “establish impunity for other crimes”. He acknowledged the urgency of the situation, saying such a court could perhaps “start trying IS crimes first” but that “we want the whole view” and any other way would risk perpetuating conflict in the region.

Damberg said that such a tribunal might be modelled on the UN’s ad hoc tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. But international criminal lawyers who spoke to JusticeInfo were sceptical, pointing to the fact that those tribunals were extremely slow, expensive and only tried a relatively limited number of individuals.

French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet has stressed that an international tribunal is a “hypothesis” under discussion, but that it should be created “on the spot, undoubtedly not in Syria, perhaps in Iraq” and could operate with “European, French and Iraqi judges”. “It would need the agreement of the Iraqi State, and the necessary conditions, notably on the death penalty which should be banned,” she said.



Source: JusticeInfo

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