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Top European Court Condemns France for Failing to Bring Home ISIS Families

PARIS – Europe’s highest human rights court on Wednesday condemned the French government for failing to return the families of two Islamic State fighters, a landmark ruling that could prompt France and other European countries to speed up the repatriation of nationals who have spent years in squalid were in detention. camps in northeastern Syria.

In a statementThe Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there had been a violation of the family members’ right to return home, adding that “the French government would be expected to would immediately re-examine the families’ request to be repatriated”. and “offer them appropriate safeguards against any arbitrariness.”

It marked the first time the court ruled on the repatriation of European families affiliated with the Islamic State who have been held in Syrian camps run by Kurdish forces since 2019, when the extremist group collapsed. Hundreds of family members remain in the camps, posing a thorny problem to European countries torn between their reluctance to bring back individuals associated with traumatic years of terrorism and their commitment to human rights.

Although the court did not oblige France to repatriate the two families and did not impose a general obligation to return all of its nationals, the fact that the country ruled in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights may have caused France and other European countries to speed up the repatriation process to avoid future embarrassing legal challenges.

“The verdict could increase pressure on other European countries to repatriate more nationals from northeastern Syria, as the court’s findings apply to all states that are parties” to the convention, said Letta Tayler, senior counter-terrorism researcher. at Human Rights Watch.

The decision came two months after France first took 16 jihadist wives home, along with 35 children, in an apparent break with its long-standing policy of not repatriating adults and approaching the return of children on a case-by-case basis. . .

But it’s unclear whether the country will soon follow suit by returning the roughly 165 children and 65 women of French nationality still trapped in the smelly, disease-ridden detention camps.

The French Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The two mothers and their three children whose cases were being examined by the court — and whose names were not disclosed in the court proceedings — were not part of the most recent repatriation operation, which took place on July 5. Their cases came before the European court more than twice. years ago, after being rejected by French courts.

During the public hearing, held in September, the French government’s lawyer argued that it should not be required to repatriate because it had no control or authority over its citizens in northeast Syria. France was supported in its argument by seven other European countries, demonstrating the far-reaching nature of the case.

But the court ruled on Wednesday that “there were special features that allowed French jurisdiction” about the family members, including that their lives were at stake, several requests for repatriation had been sent to French authorities, and Kurdish troops had long been summoned. until their return home.

Ms Tayler said the verdict was “a damning condemnation of France’s continued efforts to evade responsibility for its arbitrarily detained nationals.”

The decision was widely welcomed by lawyers, European legislators and even some victims of Islamist terrorism who have long denounced what they see as a violation of human rights.

“For several years, and still today, women and children are literally dying in these camps,” said Dunja Mijatovic, Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights. said during the public hearing of the case in September 2021. “Their repatriation, in my opinion, is the only way forward.”

Ms Tayler said the verdict should be “a wake-up call to European countries that they are breaking the law by leaving their nationals in horrific conditions”.

Countries such as Belgium and Germany recognize the appalling security and living conditions in the camps and have recently carried out large-scale repatriations.