Foreign ISIS members captured by Kurdish forces will be put on trial in Syria beginning in the spring after their governments failed to repatriate them, local authorities said Thursday.
The administration that controls northeastern Syria announced it would conduct trials for the thousands of imprisoned foreign nationals following a meeting with the Finnish foreign ministry.
Dozens of Canadians are among the detainees.
“We explained our intention to set up a special court for ISIS to the Finnish government and asked for help from the legal and technical aspects, and that this trial be transparent and public,” the statement said.
Kurdish fighters are holding more than 1,000 men, 4,000 women and 8,000 children from 53 countries, said Fener al-Kait, assistant minister in the External Affairs Ministry.
Captured during the collapse of ISIS, they are being held in makeshift prisons and camps throughout the region.
“This is an international crisis, and an international solution must be found for them,” al-Kait said.
The Rojava Information Centre said local ISIS members have faced sentences of up to 20 years for frontline fighters, and life for those guilty of killings and crimes against humanity.
The administration is seeking support from international governments, lawyers and observers “to ensure as fair and transparent a process as possible,” the RIC reported.
Asked to comment, Global Affairs Canada released a statement that did not respond to the announcement by Kurdish authorities.
But national security law expert Prof. Leah West said the prosecutions raised a long list of questions.
Among them: who would defend the foreigners, what language would trials would be conducted in, what happens if they are acquitted, would programming be available to convicts, what happens when they are released and what about their children?
“Canada’s refusal to repatriate Canadians detained in northeast Syria means we have lost control over their prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration,” said West, who teaches at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa.
“Once Canadians serve their sentence in northeast Syria there will be nothing, legally, to prevent them from returning to Canada. In fact, that is their constitutional right. I would rather see Canada manage and control this problem from start to finish, than stick our head in the sand and wait for it to show up on our doorsteps.”
U.S. and Kurdish authorities have appealed to Ottawa to repatriate the Canadians and prosecute them, but the Liberal government has declined to do so.
Many other governments have similarly abandoned their citizens.
None of the Canadians yet face any charges in Canada, although several have openly acknowledged their involvement in ISIS in interviews with Global News.
According to Public Safety Canada documents obtained by Global News, the government is arguing it has no legal obligation “to take steps to facilitate their return to Canada.”
The government is also claiming that Syria is an active conflict area “and safety concerns currently prevent Canadian officials from travelling to northeastern Syria,” according to the documents.
The international inaction has prompted the local Kurdish administration to put the detainees on trial through its own justice system, with or without the co-operation of foreign governments.
“Unfortunately, many states have not responded to our appeals. For example, we have handed over less than 10 per cent of ISIS-linked children to their countries so far,” al-Kait said.
“There is the urgent need for a solution to this issue in our region and to pressure states to receive their nationals.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces, which defeated ISIS in Syria, were already struggling to hold more than 100,000 captives when Turkey invaded the regional last October, adding to the regional instability.
“We are in a period of siege on top of the economic crisis that is ravaging Syria, and we also ask for humanitarian organizations that suspended work within the region after the Turkish attacks to communicate with the administration and provide assistance to the displaced.”
The trials will begin in March, said Abdulkarim Omar, the foreign minister for the administration that controls the region, said in comments posted on his Facebook page.