Repatriation of Canadian Islamic State Veterans and Family Members, Urges Human Rights Watch

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Canadian government flouts international human rights obligations by failing to repatriate and provide adequate consular assistance to 47 citizens currently detained in northeastern Syria due to suspected Islamic State ties, new report finds Human Rights Watch report based in the United States.Twenty-six of Canadians detained in camps and prisons controlled by Kurdish forces are children, and many are under the age of six, according to the defense group. The report says they live in deplorable conditions in overcrowded camps with a lack of sanitation, contaminated drinking water and limited access to health care.

“The abandonment of citizens to unlimited and unlimited detention in dirty, overcrowded and dangerous camps and prisons does not make Canada safer,” said Letta Tayler, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The lives of Canadians are at stake, and the time to bring them home is now. ”

An unknown number of Canadians traveled abroad to fight for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, while the group of activists took control of the territory in Iraq and Syria and applied a severe form of Islamic law.

ISIS fighters known for their videos depicting the beheading of journalists and aid workers and are accused by the United Nations of crimes against humanity for carrying out mass executions, abducting women and girls as sex slaves and used child soldiers.

Human Rights Watch says the government should immediately take all of its detained citizens home to readjust and reintegrate them into Canadian society and, if necessary, prosecute anyone accused of a crime.

The Liberal government has insisted that it will not endanger Canadian officials from gathering evidence and bringing ISIS veterans home for prosecution.

The 92-page report, titled Take me back to Canada, is based on interviews with Canadian detainees, family members and other women and children detained in al-Hol and Ain Issa, two of the camps in northeastern Syria.

Canadians Detained During ISIS

Canadian detainees among thousands of non-Iraqi men, women and children who lived under ISIS and were taken prisoner for the defeat of ISIS at the hands of the Democratic Forces Syrians supported by the United States in early 2019.

Human Rights Watch says that none of the Canadians have been charged with crimes in Canada, and that Syrian authorities have not brought them before a court either.

“No one is just saying to release these adults,” said Tayler, acknowledging that some of them may have committed crimes while joining ISIS. ” [But] detaining people without charge, without bringing them before a judge, simply because they are family members of ISIS suspects, is absolutely prohibited by international law and it is particularly blatant to detain children of this way. ”

A Syrian Democratic Forces fighter stands guard in the front-line village of Baghouz, in the eastern countryside of the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on the border with Iraq, on February 2, 2019. Baghouz is the the place where ISIS last fought. (Delil Souleiman / AFP / Getty Images)

Some family members of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that Canadian authorities have not contacted their relatives to provide assistance since their imprisonment. Family members also said they received mixed messages from the government asking if they could provide money or medicine to family members who were detained without being charged with supporting terrorism.

In addition to this, Human Rights Watch alleges that Canada has not facilitated the verification of citizenship for the 20 or so children born in Syria to Canadian parents and therefore are entitled to Canadian citizenship – a situation that makes children practically stateless.

“Innocent people, such as children who have never chosen to be born or live under IS, have no hope of leaving,” the report said. “Meanwhile, any detainee potentially involved in Islamic State crimes may never be brought to justice. “

Government provides assistance “to the extent possible”

In a letter to Human Rights Watch described in the report, Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne said that the Canadian government is paralyzed in its ability to help Canadians detained in Syria by the lack of consular resources in the region and the security situation. Canada does not currently have an embassy or consulate in Syria.

Champagne added that Canadian officials are in contact with their counterparts in the Kurdish Autonomous Administration for North and East Syria, the local authority in the region, and advocate for the well-being of detainees “in the wherever possible ”.

Canada has said it will provide assistance to anyone who can go to a Canadian consulate in a neighboring country like Turkey or Lebanon.

The plight of Canadian ex-ISIS activists and their families has been the subject of heated debate in the House of Commons in the past, with Conservatives accusing the Liberals of hosting jihadist fighters at home.

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, the party’s public safety critic, said on Sunday that the party wanted any Canadian who joined IS to be prosecuted.

“The Conservatives have given the Liberals all the tools they need to hold ISIS terrorists accountable and to protect Canadians,” said Paul-Hus. “We will continue to hold Justin Trudeau accountable and insist that he develop a real plan to bring ISIS terrorists to justice. ”

Christian Leuprecht, an international security expert who teaches at Queen’s University, said that the government’s reluctance to act on these detainees shows a refusal to choose between a foreign combatants approach that emphasizes prosecution, rehabilitation or a hybrid of the two.

“Countries like France have adopted a pursuit approach. Countries like Denmark have adopted a reintegration approach. The Dutch have adopted both a pursuit and reintegration approach, ”said Leuprecht, who also teaches at the Royal Military College of Canada. “Canada has no strategy and no approach.”

Leuprecht said that domestic political considerations are also a factor, making bringing detainees home seems to be a “dead end” for any government.

“If you take them home, the public will feel that the government is supporting people who … may have been involved in very serious criminal offenses,” said Leuprecht. “It is politically easier and more expedient for the previous government and for this government to do little. “

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