The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) made an announcement on Saturday stating their decision to conduct public and fair trials for the approximately 10,000 foreign fighters captured from the Islamic State (ISIS) group. The AANES, along with its official military force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has played a leading role in the battle against ISIS in northern and eastern Syria, including key strongholds such as Baghouz and Raqqa.
The statement from the Autonomous Administration highlights that ISIS bears responsibility for committing heinous crimes and mass atrocities against the region’s population, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. These acts have resulted in the disappearance of thousands of people and widespread destruction of cities in the region.
The statement also notes that foreign fighters from more than 60 nationalities entered Syrian territories with the support and supervision of the Turkish government to join the ranks of ISIS.
Handling the repatriation and prosecution of accused ISIS members has been a contentious issue since the group’s defeat by the Kurdish-led forces. The burden of accommodating the detainees and their families has fallen entirely on the Autonomous Administration, adding complexity to the situation.
Despite numerous appeals made by the AANES to the international community to address the issue of detained ISIS members, little progress has been made. The AANES has proposed initiatives to concerned countries, international human rights organisations, and the United Nations, calling for the establishment of an international court or a court with international jurisdiction. The objective is to ensure that ISIS members are brought to justice based on substantial evidence and available documents.
In January of this year, the Human Rights Watch reported that nearly 42,000 foreign ISIS suspects and their family members from 60 countries are currently detained in northeast Syria. Many of these individuals, mostly women and children, were taken to Syria by men who sought to join ISIS or live under its control. Children born in areas under ISIS control or in camps where families with alleged ISIS links are detained also form a significant portion of the detainees.
The AANES explained that their decision to conduct trials was prompted by the lack of response from the international community regarding the repatriation of foreign ISIS members under their custody, as well as the need to provide justice for the victims. However, the AANES clarified that this decision does not indicate a change in their position regarding the necessity of establishing a dedicated international court for ISIS detainees. The administration continues to urge the international community to respond and collaborate in the establishment of such a court.
The AANES has reiterated its appeal to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the United Nations, relevant international human rights organisations, and local entities to actively engage and provide support throughout all phases of the upcoming trials.