Lawsuits accuse France of deliberately failing jihadist families in Syria

The Al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria
The Al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria Delil souleiman / AFP

The families of French women and children held in Syria have this week filed lawsuits in Paris against the “arbitrary detention and forcible confinement” of their relatives, accusing the French authorities of deliberately choosing not to intervene.

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Marie Dosé, a lawyer representing some of those being held in the Kurdish-controlled camps, said she’s filed 10 complaints in an effort to have a magistrate appointed to investigate.

"Since January 2018, the French authorities have been informed that French nationals, including minors, are being deprived of their liberty in Syrian Kurdistan – and that this detention is arbitrary since they are held without right or title," she told French media.

The French government has agreed to repatriate children from these camps on a "case by case" basis and, after months of delays, 12 orphans were brought home in June. This followed the repatriation of 6 children in March.

France criticised over u-turn on trying jihadis

This week’s lawsuits come after lawyers in Paris accused France of hypocrisy for allowing 11 French jihadists to be tried and sentenced to death in Baghdad.

The French nationals were captured by Kurdish forces in Syria, before being transferred to Baghdad. France had planned to repatriate them for trial, but this policy was subsequently reversed. Opinion polls showed overwhelming public opposition to the original plan for the French trials.

Marie Dosé, à la Cour d'Assises de Créteil, le 26 juin 2018.
Marie Dosé, à la Cour d'Assises de Créteil, le 26 juin 2018. © AFP/Eric FEFERBERG

France doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all policy when dealing with its nationals who are accused of terrorism offences abroad, says France 24 journalist and terrorism expert Wassim Nasr.

“There’s no concrete agreement with the Syrian government, of course, because France doesn’t even have an embassy in Syria,” Nasr says.

“There are some deals with the Kurdish factions holding territory in north-east Syria to have them keep men, women and children in custody – even though it’s completely illegal because the Kurds are not a recognised political authority with a judicial system.”

French nationals (from top left to bottom right) Vianney Ouraghi, Salim Machou, Mustapha Merzoughi, Brahim Nejara, Fodil Tahar Aouidate, Kevin Gonot, Yassine Sakkam and Leonard Lopez, all sentenced by a Baghdad court to death for joining the Islamic State
French nationals (from top left to bottom right) Vianney Ouraghi, Salim Machou, Mustapha Merzoughi, Brahim Nejara, Fodil Tahar Aouidate, Kevin Gonot, Yassine Sakkam and Leonard Lopez, all sentenced by a Baghdad court to death for joining the Islamic State AFP

Despite death sentences being handed down, France has long said that it would do what it can to prevent those executions from actually being carried out.

Talk of French judges going to Iraq to try French nationals in a special court is an impossible solution, Nasr says, because it would be viewed as an injustice by the Iraqi people.

“How can you explain that a French or European national who committed the same crime under the Islamic State banner as an Iraqi national won’t be sentenced to death – even though the Iraqi national is?”

Interview: France 24 journalist Wassim Nasr

A failure for western democracy

While the fallout of the war in Syria and Iraq is creating more problems than solutions, Nasr warns the biggest challenges the jihadists have thrown in the faces of western democracies is the children who are being left behind.

“The real risk is them being left in a failed country … Abandoning them there is a big failure for democratic systems. Answers need to be found, because leaving French and European citizens in Syrian and Iraqi desert camps is not a solution.”

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