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Expert Meeting in Geneva: What Legal Solutions for Members of the Islamic State Detained in Syria

On 23 May 2019, more than 50 people, legal experts, representatives of States and international organizations, as well as representatives from North-East Syria got together in Geneva to examine possible legal solutions for members of the Islamic State detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces in North-East Syria. The meeting was co-organized by the NGO Fight for Humanity and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

More than 2'000 foreigners, 3'000 Syrians and a similar number of Iraqis - men, women, children - from 70 different countries are reported to be detained by the SDF in North East Syria. Their legal situation is not clear: the SDF has called for the support of the international community to judge them after many of their countries of origin decided to not to repatriate them.

During the meeting, participants discussed three main options that could eventually be mixed. In the first option, these detainees would stay under the control of the SDF. The SDF might judge them or keep them without trial or even release them. The second option implies the establishment of an international tribunal under the sponsorship of the United Nations or of several countries. However, several States are reluctant and point to the many existing legal and logistical obstacles. The third option is the repatriation of the detainees to their countries of origin or the transfer to a third State.

“The objective of this meeting was to formulate legal recommendations for each of these scenarios so that the victims of the crimes committed by these detainees can get reparation. Only fair trials can guarantee a long-term stability” said Mehmet Balci, Co-Director of the organization Fight for Humanity.

Legal experts informed participants about the legal challenges of these options without any political considerations: can a non-State actor such as the SDF judge international detainees or participate in an international court?

A report of this meeting is available and will be disseminated to the relevant actors with recommendations on key points to take into consideration for how to solve the case of these detainees.

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