The trials of Islamic State (ISIS) members would proceed regardless of negotiations with the anti-ISIS coalition, the co-chair of the AANES Foreign Affairs Bureau Bedran Chiya Kurd confirmed during a press conference organised by Germany’s Kurdish Centre for Studies on Thursday.
The statement comes after the AANES’ announcement to proceed with public and fair trials for thousands of foreign fighters captured from the Islamic State (ISIS) group, highlighting the international community’s failure to respond to their appeals for repatriation and justice for the victims.
In a press conference organised by Germany’s Kurdish Centre for Studies, Bedran Chiya Kurd, the co-chair of the AANES Foreign Affairs Bureau, emphasised that the AANES remained hopeful of international support in bringing ISIS fighters to justice through its own legal system, which has been trying Syrian ISIS members for several years.
The trials would go ahead regardless of approval from the US-led Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the official said, though a clear start date is yet to be announced.
In his opening remarks, Chiya Kurd said: “In our final struggle against ISIS, there were around 4000 [foreign] ISIS fighters captured – all armed, trained ISIS fighters now being kept in prison. Beyond that, there around 7000 Syrian ISIS fighters in prisons in North and East Syria, plus more than 50,000 family members.
“This is a huge problem for the whole world. The AANES has been undertaking the care of these dangerous criminals, who constitute a danger to the world, and so should be tried by either the International Criminal Court, or a joint court, with the participation of different global parties. We haven’t received any support for this. It’s been five years that the AANES has been caring for these criminals, keeping them in prison without trial, which doesn’t comply with international standards. Therefore, we can no longer keep these people without an indictment. The issue is that these people have been kept without trial or being held accountable. They remain a danger.”
The AANES, along with its official military force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has played a leading role in the battle against ISIS as the official partner on the ground of the US-led International Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The announcement follows five years in which the AANES has repeatedly appealed either for foreign countries to repatriate their nationals, or for an international justice mechanism to be established in order to try ISIS members. Addressing the need for trials to begin, Chiya Kurd added:
“The prisons where we keep thousands of the most dangerous ISIS fighters are a security problem for our region. ISIS has been organising itself, and getting stronger day by day. In 2022, we had 130 operations against ISIS sleeper cells, capturing 260 ISIS members. ISIS is trying to revive and get stronger. As such, AANES decided to revise its approach and start with the trial of these captives, through local courts in North East Syria. They will be public trials – monitors, observers, experts, lawyers will be welcome to these trials. Everyone will be welcome. These will be fair trials.”
The trials of foreign ISIS members were reported earlier this week as beginning imminently, though Chiya Kurd repeatedly stated he was unable to give a definitive starting date, citing security concerns.
Although the AANES is unilaterally conducting the trials, Chiya Kurd emphasised that the Kurdish-led administration remained open to support from international actors, saying:
“We have been in contact with several European authorities. We want them to be a part of this process. As mentioned earlier, they can send their lawyers to defend their own nationals, or observers to follow the process. We will also accept any evidence provided by impartial international organisations. We are also in continued negotiations with the Coalition, but we will go ahead with the trials, regardless of the outcome.”
Asked who would be conducting the trials, Chiya Kurd said: “We have prosecutors, we have a group of specialised judges, and we also have years of experience. They will be assigned by the Chamber of Justice, which is our equivalent of a Justice Ministry. Syrian ISIS members have been tried [in our courts] since 2014. More than 8,000 Syrian ISIS members have been tried, the majority of them have been convicted. Some were found innocent. Some are still being tried. Those who have served their sentences have been released, those who have been convicted are currently serving their sentences.”
Regarding the possible sentence, Chiya stressed that: “We don’t have the death penalty. We will issue rulings according to our penal code, but the death penalty is out of question. Those judged by AANES will serve their sentence in the prisons here. If we have an agreement, we might transfer the convicted to their country of origin, but this will depend on bilateral agreements between us and the relevant countries.”
The trials will primarily focus on male fighters detained while actively fighting against the SDF, but Chiya Kurd added: “Women are mostly considered to be victims of ISIS, but there’s evidence some of these women are involved in crimes against humanity. For the majority of them, we cannot charge them, but for some of them, we already have evidence.”