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U.S. vetoes United Nations anti-terrorism resolution

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The United States vetoed a U.N. resolution Monday calling for the prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of all those engaged in terrorism-related activities, saying it didn’t call for the repatriation from Syria and Iraq of foreign fighters for the Islamic State extremist group and their families which is essential.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Security Council voted by email. The result was 14 countries in favour and only the U.S. opposed. It was announced by the current council president, Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, whose country sponsored the resolution.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said last week the world must work together to prevent the revival of the Islamic State extremist group, also known as ISIS. And she stressed that repatriation and accountability for crimes are essential so that fighters and their family members still in Syria and Iran “do not become the nucleus of an ISIS 2.0.”

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Craft told a council meeting on counter-terrorism that the Trump administration was disappointed that Indonesian efforts to draft “a meaningful resolution … were stymied by council members’ refusal to include repatriation.”

That was a reference to Western Europeans, especially, including Britain and France, who have opposed the return of IS fighters and their families, except in the case of orphans and some children. The British government says those who are in custody in Syria and Iraq should face justice there rather than going on trial in the U.K.

The draft resolution does support the return of children.

It encourages all countries to co-operate in efforts to address the threat from “foreign terrorist fighters” or FTFs, “including by bringing them to justice, preventing the radicalization to terrorism and recruitment of FTFs and accompanying family members, particularly accompanying children, including by facilitating the return of the children to their countries of origin, as appropriate and on a case by case basis.”

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The Islamic State group, which once controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria, lost its last Syrian strongholds in early 2019. But despite the loss of its self-styled caliphate, U.N. experts said earlier this year that the extremist group is mounting increasingly bold attacks in Syria and Iraq and is planning for the breakout of its fighters in detention facilities.

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U.N. counter-terrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov said in July that his office had received information that 700 people died recently in two camps in northeast Syria — al-Hol and Roj — where more than 70,000 mainly women and children connected to Islamic State fighters are detained in “very dire conditions.”

The camps are overseen by Kurdish-led forces who allied with the United States and spearheaded the fight against the extremist Islamic State group.

The International Crisis Group reported on April 7 that there are 66,000 women and children in al-Hol and 4,000 in Roj, most of them relatives of IS extremists, “but some former affiliates of the group themselves.” The Brussels-based think-tank said that the majority are either Syrians or Iraqis, with the numbers roughly split, and around 13,500 are from other countries.

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The group said humanitarian workers described the detention sites “as ridden with tuberculosis and perilously overcrowded, with one speaking of `dramatic mortality rates.”’ This has since been compounded by the COVID-19 crisis.

In addition to the al-Hol and Roj camps, the Kurdish fighters are guarding thousands of IS fighters and boys in prisons.

Voronkov urged the international community to tackle “the huge problem” of what to do with these people, saying keeping them in camps “is very dangerous.”

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He warned that “they could create very explosive materials that could be very helpful for terrorists to restart their activities” in Syria and Iraq.

But the counter-terrorism chief also said: “No country would like to have these people back, with this very negative and very dangerous terrorist background.”

Human Rights Watch said in June 2019 that countries including France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands insist that logistical challenges and security risks make it practically impossible for them to help their citizens accused of membership in ISIS.

But the international rights organization also noted that others, like Kosovo, Turkey, Russia, and especially Central Asian countries are repatriating their nationals and showing that where there is a will to bring citizens home, there is a way.