IntelBrief: French Foreign Fighters Sentenced to Death in Iraq
June 3, 2019
Bottom Line Up Front
• Just last week, seven members of the so-called Islamic State, all of them from France, were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court.
• Many Western countries have refused to take back citizens who traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State.
• An estimated 450 French foreign nationals, including children, reside in northeastern Syria, where they are being held in detention camps.
• France has sent mixed messages, refusing to repatriate its citizens, but voicing concerns that these individuals should not be subjected to capital punishment, which France is officially against.
Just last week, seven members of the so-called Islamic State, all of whom are from France, were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court, having been found guilty of being members of a terrorist group. Some human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have expressed concern over the issue of due process and sentencing as a tool for retribution. Trials have been swift and details about the nature of the crimes committed have been obfuscated, as Iraqi courts struggle with transparency. Most experts agree that due to lack of available evidence, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to try and convict foreign fighters in courts of law in Europe and the U.S. But in Iraq, there are numerous legal, moral, and ethical issues to contend with, including that some confessions might have been contrived through the use of torture or other extra-judicial methods. In some cases, judges have been described as politically biased, while in others, the defendants lack adequate legal representation.
Many Western countries have refused to take back citizens who traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. Despite the protestations of human rights groups, there is little sympathy for individuals, whether men or women, who knowingly traveled abroad to join a terrorist group associated with sexual slavery, widespread rape and other forms of extreme violence, including beheadings and crucifixions. Bringing foreign fighters to justice should send a clear message to others who may seek to travel abroad to fight in other countries’ civil wars that if they are caught breaking the law, they will be tried and sentenced according to the laws of the countries where they committed their crimes.
The French foreign fighters were transferred to the custody of the Iraqi government after being captured, detained, and interrogated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.), an American-backed Kurdish militia that fought against the Islamic State. An estimated 450 French foreign nationals, including children, reside in northeastern Syria, where they are being held in detention camps. Other French foreign fighters have received life sentences in Iraqi prisons, while at least a dozen others, and likely many more, still await trial. After the final siege of Baghouz, an estimated 4,000 foreigners were caught up in the dragnet across Iraq and Syria. A few weeks ago, the Iraqi government offered to try all foreign fighters in its custody if foreign governments were willing to contribute money to assist with the process. One reported figure was as high as $2 billion to try them all.
The French, in particular, have sent mixed messages. The foreign ministry has recognized Iraq’s sovereignty and gone on the record to declare that Islamic State fighters should ‘answer for their crimes.’ Yet, after refusing to repatriate its citizens, the country’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, noted that France was ramping up efforts to prevent more of its citizens from being executed since Paris remains staunchly against capital punishment. Outside observers have criticized the French for trying to have it both ways.
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