Court rules France violated human rights of children in Syrian camps
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Wednesday that France violated the human rights of two French nationals by refusing to repatriate their children and grandchildren who are held in camps in north-eastern Syria.
The two French plaintiffs, who filed the case anonymously, each had a daughter who travelled to Syria to live under the so-called Islamic State (IS). One of the daughters died in Syria, leaving behind two children held in a camp in northeast Syria.
The other daughter is thought to be held with her child in al-Roj camp, a detention camp run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
After defeating the so-called IS caliphate in March 2019, the SDF was left with tens of thousands of former or suspected IS fighters and their families.
They have repeatedly appealed to the international community for assistance in dealing with these individuals, but have mostly been left to shoulder the burden themselves.
These individuals have languished in camps in prisons described as "appalling" by the International Rescue Committee. Around two children die every week in al-Hol camp, the most notorious of the detention camps.
There are more than 25,000 non-Syrian children stuck in Kurdish-run detention camps, according to to Save The Children.
Both parents appealed to the French Foreign Ministry, Presidency and judicial system to arrange the repatriation of their children and grandchildren. The Ministry and Presidency refused to help with their repatriation of them, as the "individuals concerned had deliberately left to join a terrorist organisation."
The ECHR ruled that this refusal was a violation of Protocol No. 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says that nationals should not be deprived of the right to enter their own state. It further added that the requests for the French nationals’ repatriation had not been protected against "arbitrariness".
The court said that it expected the French government to "re-examine" the requests for repatriation in a way that protected against arbitrariness.
The ruling was a landmark decision not only for France but for other European states who have yet to repatriate their nationals from camps in northeast Syria.
"The verdict is long overdue. France, as well as the other 60 countries with citizens unlawfully detained and left behind in camps and prisons in Northeast Syria, must now take urgent action," Beatrice Erikson, the founder of Repatriate The Children Sweden, told The New Arab.
France and other EU states have mostly repatriated children on a case-by-case basis, intervening at the last moment in the case of serious illness. Repatriation is a politically unpopular decision domestically, particularly in the case of nationals who travelled to IS-held Syria as adults.
EU states have said that their nationals should be tried in local courts, or that they are not able to repatriate their nationals from northeast Syria because they do not have formal diplomatic ties with the Kurdish authorities there.
Critics, however, say that this is an abdication of their responsibility to their citizens.
"Everyone is entitled to a fair trial. This is central to finally breaking the circle of violence. We cannot pretend that we are fighting a 'war on terror' to protect the rule of law when we disregard legal principles," Erikson added.