ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – France’s Minister of Justice told the media this week that she was in discussions with other European governments about the possibility of setting up an international court in Iraq to try foreigners who are accused of traveling to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State.
Nicole Belloubet made the comments to Radio Monte Carlo, stressing that such a plan was in its earliest stages, saying, “This is speculation voiced by many of my counterparts, interior ministers and justice ministers alike, at the European level.”
European states have been reluctant to repatriate their citizens being charged with becoming Islamic State members or fighters who are now being held in camps in Syria run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as well the detainees' children.
Many nations in the EU fear that due to the lack of evidence, Islamic State supporters could be quickly released once they appear in court after returning home. As such, the notion of an international criminal court to try them either in Iraq or Syria appears to be an attractive solution for them.
Belloubet added that the discussions were being held in the “Vendome” group, which includes justice ministers from the governments of France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, and that, before such a court was established, “Conditions like the Iraqi state’s approval and a ban against the death penalty need to be met.”
An Iraqi court on Sunday handed down death sentences to two French nationals convicted of being members of the Islamic State. They are among 12 French accused Islamic State members who were arrested by the SDF and transferred from Syrian to Iraqi custody earlier this year, with others from the group having been given earlier death sentences.
Iraqi courts have put on trial hundreds of foreigners, sentencing many to life in prison and others to death. Human rights groups have criticized inconsistencies in the judicial process in Iraq and the prominence of flawed trials.
After some of the French nationals claimed in court that they had been tortured by Iraqi officials, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on nations to not rely on Iraq, a country notorious for using torture to extract confessions, to try their citizens.
"France and other countries should not be outsourcing management of their terrorism suspects to abusive justice systems," said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at HRW.
"These countries should not be sitting idly by while their citizens are transferred to a country where their right to a fair trial and protection from torture are undermined.
None of the sentences have yet been carried out, but France has said it was intensifying diplomatic efforts to spare its citizens from execution, according to a previous statement released by the French Foreign Ministry.
The Islamic State emerged in Iraq in 2014 and quickly occupied vast swaths of territory in Iraq. In late 2017, Baghdad declared a final victory against the extremist organization, but its remnants continue to launch insurgent attacks, ambushes, and kidnappings across much of the country.
Editing by John J. Catherine