Skip to content

10 recommendations for solving the issue of ISIS detainees in North East Syria

July 8, 2019
Detention centre for IS detainees in North East Syria © Nicolas Sion

This post has been written by Nicolas Sion, Head of Development, Fight for Humanity with input by Anki Sjőberg, Co-Director and Founder, Fight for Humanity.

On 23 May 2019, more than 50 people, legal experts, representatives of States and international organizations, as well as representatives from North-East Syria met in Geneva to examine possible legal solutions for members of the Islamic State detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces in North-East Syria. The meeting was co-organized by the NGO Fight for Humanity and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Fight for Humanity is a non-governmental organization that works to convince armed actors, notably armed non-State actors, about the need to respect people’s rights in the areas of their control or influence.

More than 2,000 foreigners from 70 different countries, 3,000 Syrians and a similar number of Iraqis – men, women, children with alleged links to ISIS – are reported to be detained by the Self-Administration in North East Syria (NES) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The NES/SDF has called for the support of the international community to prosecute these individuals after many of their countries of origin decided to not to repatriate them.

Read more…

News Roundup 3rd June – 16th June

June 18, 2019

3rd June – 9th June

‘Weaponisation of hunger’: Idlib’s farmers victims of scorched-earth campaign

More crop fire in Kirkuk as Iraqi ministry reports over 30,000 acres burned so far

Torching and Extortion: OSINT analysis of burning agriculture in Iraq

A taliban commander’s double life, in a war he couldn’t leave behind

Palestinian self-made weaponry on the rise

Children used by anti-Boko Haram groups struggle against trauma

Islamic State claims first attack in Mozambique

Militarizing the Peace: UN intervention against Congo’s ‘terrorist’ rebels

Sudan paramilitaries raped and assaulted protesters and medics

Colombia: Rights experts condemn killing of reintegrated former rebel fighter, call for respect of peace process

10th June – 16th June

Focusing on armed non-state actors: Protecting education in armed conflict

Foreign jihadists involved in Hama fighting

Orphans of French Isis fighters fly home from Syria

Iraqi Shi’ite groups deepen control in strategic Sunni areas

Saudi Arabia says Iran behind Houthi missile attack on airport

Khalifa Haftar’s armed groups militarise oil terminals, NOC warns of destruction of oil infrastructure

Shutting up shop: Libyan conflict squeezes southern Tunisia

Islamist insurgents overrun Nigerian army base in northeast: security sources

Mali attack: At least 95 killed in ethnic Dogon village

Sudan rebel leader ‘deported’ as military steps up street patrols

Between paradox and panacea: legalizing exploitation of natural resources by armed groups in the fight against conflict resources

June 18, 2019

Daniëlla Dam-de Jong is an Associate professor of public international law at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies of Leiden University. The current contribution builds on earlier work.

Tin ore from mine held by armed group and tin ore from non-conflict mine © Sasha Lezhnev

Natural resources have financed numerous armed conflicts in the past decades. In response, several initiatives have been developed to stop the trade in these so-called ‘conflict resources’, focusing predominantly on one particular actor: armed groups. As these initiatives are tailored to respond to particular threats to international peace and security, the question of the (il)legality under international law of natural resource exploitation by armed groups remains unanswered. This contribution inquires whether there are circumstances in which international law provides a right for armed groups to exploit natural resources. It concludes that current international law does not provide an explicit legal basis for such a right.  Nevertheless, a case can be made for assuming the existence of a right for armed groups to exploit natural resources when two cumulative conditions are met: the group exercises effective control over territory and exploitation must be strictly for humanitarian purposes. The contribution proposes to apply the principle of usufruct from occupation law to these situations, as it strikes a balance between the rights of the sovereign State and the responsibilities of the de facto authorities in the areas under their control.      

Read more…

Collection of bodies in Mosul: An act of revenge, humanity – or both?

June 11, 2019

This blog post is cross-posted on the blog of Utrecht Law School’s Montaigne Centre. This is a research centre that focuses on the rule of law and administration of justice.

Last week, I listened to a podcast in NPR’s Rough Translation series that was on collecting the dead in Mosul, Iraq in 2018. The podcast is about Sroor Al-Hosayni, a 23 year old Iraqi woman who heads a team of volunteers who removed dead bodies from the rubble of Mosul, eight months after the city was liberated from its occupation by the Islamic State (IS/ISIS). Fascinated, I did more digging on the internet and found that Sroor’s work as a ‘body-collector’ has also been covered by the BBC and VICE news. In this post, I use these sources to recount the main parts of Sroor’s role as a ‘body collector’ and show how her story brings to light a set of rules in the international humanitarian law (IHL) framework on ‘the collection of the dead’ that rarely get any attention in academic writings.

In particular, Sroor’s story vividly illustrates the necessity of the rule in IHL that parties to an armed conflict should search for and collect the bodies of the dead ‘without distinction’ i.e. without taking account of their affiliation. The fact that Sroor gets into trouble with the authorities for collecting IS bodies evidences wider trends of counter terrorism legislation impeding humanitarian action. Sroor’s story also illustrates the danger that the unsupervised removal of bodies may not only pose a health and security risk, but may also interfere with the gathering of forensic evidence needed for the prosecution of war crimes.

Read more…

News Roundup 27th May – 2nd June

June 3, 2019

Satellite images show crops on fire in Syria rebel enclave

Female Isis captives reveals role in helping CIA hunt for Baghdadi

Children of IS fighters held in “Secret Detention Facilities”

France returns seven nationals who joined Isis to Iraq, where the verdict comes quick

UN says Afghan captives held by Taliban subjected to abuse

In Palestine and beyond, tear gas takes environmental toll

Egypt using militias in Sinai to help carry out human rights abuses – HRW

Al-Shabaab in Kenya: Cross-border attacks and recruitment

Analysis: Islamic State claims in the DRC

DR Congo forces kill 26 rebels in Ebola zone near Beni

Reparations by Non-State Armed Groups

May 29, 2019

[Dr Luke Moffett is a senior law lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast and principal investigator on the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council ‘Reparations, Responsibility and Victimhood in Transitional Societies’ project. The project has conducted fieldwork in Uganda, Northern Ireland, Colombia, Guatemala, Nepal, and Peru, with a smaller pilot in South Sudan].

Reparations are measures to acknowledge and remedy the harm caused to victims by a responsible actor. International law and state practice in transitional societies, places the responsibility on the state to deliver reparations, but there is increasing recognition that non-state armed groups should also provide reparations. To some people it may seem morally jarring to seek or encourage non-state armed groups to make reparations, when they engage in violence against civilians or are viewed as terrorists or criminal gangs. Yet international law obligates states to do this, despite the scale of violence for which they can be responsible. This is not to suggest that a similar legal framework for reparations built around state responsibility should be mirrored for non-state armed groups, as they will often lack the capacity, resources or political will to mobilise their supporters. Instead responsibility for delivering reparations to all victims in a conflict rests with the state, which even with violence committed by private actors, has obligations to ensure all victims of violence can access redress. There is increasing practice that in certain circumstances non-state armed groups can have obligations under international law.

As part of an AHRC funded project, we have been exploring how non-state armed groups contribute to reparations across seven contexts and engaging with 18 groups. Our research and engagement with such groups have focused more on the organic practice of redress by non-state armed groups during and post-conflict, rather than just the law itself. Through our research we have been exploring the role of non-state armed groups making reparations to those civilians they victimise, those who suffer violations within their own organisation and to other non-state armed groups. This blog outlines some of these practices of redress, linkages with reintegration, and reparations for victimised ex-combatants, to encourage a wider debate on these issues. At the outset while we refer to combatant, this is not alluding to their status under international humanitarian law, but how they refer to themselves.

Reparations during and post-conflict

Providing reparations during conflict is complicated by violence and insecurity, but non-state armed groups often engage in reparative practices to mitigate hostility from civilians and supportive communities. This can take the form of land restitution, compensation, provision of basic medical care or transport for those injured, or acknowledgements of responsibility and apologies. Many armed groups do not have the financial resources to provide compensation when civilians are killed during conflict, so some instead make acknowledgements of responsibility and even apologies to the families to “explain mistakes and get closer to the civilian population” as one former MRTA commander in Peru explained. Other groups following local cultural practices left a token amount of compensation as “blood money” on killed informants or civilians to avoid or at least minimise retaliation from the victim’s family. Clearly during times of conflict there are skewed power relation dynamics between armed groups and civilians. Research indicates though the dynamics between civilians and non-state armed groups is more complicated than between those who have guns and those who do not, to reflect the agency and organised resistance of civilians can cause non-state armed groups to seek dialogue and compromise, rather than violence, to mediate disputes.

 In post-conflict transitions, non-state armed groups may be defeated, imprisoned, demobilised or splintered into dissident groups that prevent them from collectively engaging in transitional justice processes. In other contexts such groups may now be political representatives or in a power-sharing government, such as the ANC, Sinn Fein or the Communist Party of Nepal. Having the political wing of an armed group in power does not necessarily mean they will promote a transitional justice agenda, as some may frustrate it. However, some do continue the struggle for social transformation through such processes, such as historical grievances or victims within their own political community. Beyond this there can also be political gestures aimed at reconciliation by such actors, such as the public apologies by FARC, former IRA members assisting in the recovery of the disappeared or members of MRTA contributing to the Peruvian truth commission. This can go beyond the organisational contribution to also include individual members’ role in making reparations, such as the alternative sanction suggested in the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).

Reparations and reintegration

Non-state armed groups members are not always perpetrators, some groups do comply with the Geneva Conventions. Yet upon demobilising, ex-combatants can face a number of barriers to their reintegration. Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programmes are intended to facilitate combatants’ transition into civilian life, but are often disconnected from transitional justice processes or unable to address their victimisation. Combatants can often be stigmatised when returning to civilian life, this can include threats to their life and their family. 139 ex-FARC combatants have been killed since demobilising after the 2016 peace agreement. Others can face barriers to accessing jobs or social services, due to their criminal convictions or discrimination.

Reparations by non-state armed groups can be a way to minimise such stigma and help the normalisation of combatant resocialisation by demonstrating they are trying to make good the harm they have caused in the past. The difficulty of reparations by non-state armed groups, and individual combatants in particular, is that it can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand where it is imposed as part of a sentence it can be seen as a form of retribution beyond prison, to affect a person and their family after their release. One MRTA commander in Peru spoke about how after serving nearly thirty years in prison he is now paying off his reparation order in $30 USD a month installments, which initially was $15,000, but now with interest is $300,000, making it impossible for him to pay it off. His family have also had property seized and anything he earns is subject to a judicial order of confiscation. This money does not go to the victims of his group, but to the state, who has already indemnified victims under the national reparation programme. Similar practices in the Basque country and Colombia have been noted by other groups we have engaged with, who are now wary of speaking or engaging with victims on reparations. These reparation orders are similar to the International Criminal Court, where liability has been established against those convicted before the Court. As raised in the Al Mahdi case there is no indication when such liability should end, but the Court is keen to avoid imposing hardships that would prevent perpetrators’ reintegration into society upon release. In the Bemba case, the defendant had substantial assets that were frozen, but because they were not properly managed they were left to rot or incur large parking bills, such as his jet airplane in Faro. Other groups in Northern Ireland, Colombia and Nepal we spoke to were apprehensive about transitional justice in general, having seen the political discourse change since the peace agreement from reconciliation to a more retributive search for prosecution of combatants, many of whom are now in their old age. This is having mental health impact on such ex-combatants, who like victims do not have long-term access to psychological support.

On the other hand, where combatants are incentivised through reduced sentences or other benefits, reparations by ex-combatants can serve to recover information on the location of the remains of disappeared victims, transfer of assets, details and motivations of violence, and more symbolic measures of acknowledgment of responsibility and apologies to victims. One group in Lebanon we spoke to is actively involved in engaging marginalised youths from being radicalised or joining other armed groups, thereby in a way contributing to guarantees of non-repetition of violence. There are difficulties fraught in each of these approaches. The experience of transitional justice has been that such processes need to be carefully crafted to protect the interests and rights of all involved, in particular victims. Nevertheless countries like Colombia and its Special Jurisdiction for Peace alongside its truth commission and body for the recovery of the disappeared are trying to encourage FARC to make such reparations, which through the alternative sanction regime is increasingly taking the form of community work and symbolic reparations, with material reparations mainly provided through the government’s Victims Unit.

Reparations for ex-combatants

Comunidad 29 de diciembre in Guatemala, is a peace community made up of around 100 families of ex-guerrilla combatants. The statue commemorates injured guerrillas killed and those who were disappeared by state forces during the conflict. The community organisation offers support to women affected by sexual violence and a sports hall and horticulture for disabled ex-guerrillas.

A thornier issue is the victimisation of ex-combatants and whether they should be eligible for reparations. Combatants may not want to see themselves as victims when they suffer violations during combat; there is a growing literature around notions of honour, loyalty and masculinity to explain this. Nevertheless reparation policies often face the contentious issue of whether or not combatants should be included so as to avoid moral equivalence with those they victimised. In Peru and Colombia combatants who are victimised, such as suffering torture, sexual violence or being forcibly recruited as a child but demobilised as an adult, are excluded from reparations. This is problematic when reparations are intended to remedy and acknowledge violations, and reconstitute values of the rule of law, equality and human rights. Including such victimised combatants is not to detract from these individuals’ responsibility for victimising others, but to appreciate being a victim and a combatant are not black and white. People have complex conflict experiences that do not necessarily fit into neat boxes. Indeed disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programmes may not be set up to provide the services needed to victimised combatants, such as those who suffer from forced abortions in the FARC. As such, we need to think more broadly than reparations being the sole role of the state and victims only being civilians Non-state armed groups can play an important role in transitioning society from conflict, continuing to punish them may miss an opportunity to remedy some of the wrongs of the past.

News Roundup 16th April – 26th May

May 27, 2019

Here is a consolidated news roundup from 16th April to 26th May. From now, news roundups will once again be posted weekly.

16th April – 22nd April

Endgames & Affiliations: Explaining Differing Patterns of Behavior Between Islamist Groups

Warlord Haftar’s armed groups shower Tripoli neighbourhoods with indiscriminate rockets

Nearly 180 dead and 800 injured in Haftar’s assaults on Tripoli

Baluch insurgent group claims responsibility for killing 14 in Pakistan

Pakistan revisits the usefulness of ‘Armed Militias’ – For what?

How stolen weapons keep groups like Boko Haram in business

Rebels in southern Sudan announce halt to hostilities until July 31

Armed conflict reactivating throughout Colombia as peace process is crumbling

Nicaragua: State must put an end to a year of brutal repression

Videos appear to show armed militia detaining migrants at US-Mexico border

23rd April – 29th April

Militants ‘kill 22 Syrian government troops’ in Aleppo as Putin warns on Idlib

At least 17 killed in blast in Syria’s rebel-held Jisr al Shughour: rescue workers

Guards repel assault on Libya’s biggest oilfield as Tripoli battle rages

A women’s-rights activist is concerned about negotiations with the Taliban

UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than armed groups

Sri Lanka: 15 dead in gun battle with bombing suspects

Mali’s rebel leaders face UN sanctions over continued attacks

Philippine communist rebels kill 6 soldiers, Military says

New IRA says Brexit has provided it with opportunity – Sunday Times

New I.R.A. apologizes for killing of journalist in Northern Ireland

30th April – 6th May

Turkey-backed Syrian rebels launch attack into Kurdish-held area

Watchdog: Hundreds of media workers killed in Syria

Turkish-backed militia releases leader of pro-Barzani faction in Syria’s Afrin

ISIL chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears in propaganda video

IS group claims deadly attack on Haftar training camp in Libya

UN puts Pakistani armed group chief Masood Azhar on ‘terror’ list

Barzani Foundation suspends aid in Shingal after PKK-affiliated armed group imprisons office head

Six killed in Burkina Faso church attack

Rwanda detains rebel leader from group behind deadly attacks: minister

Myanmar troops kill six, detain scores in Rakhine over suspected rebel links: military spokesman

7th May – 13th May

Syrian army attacks rebel stronghold: insurgent spokesman

Iraq: Confining families with alleged ISIS ties unlawful

The future is here, and it features hackers getting bombed

IEDs and the Maoist insurgency

Nearly 900 children released by north-east Nigeria armed group

Extrajudicial killing dims hopes for Colombia’s demobilized FARC

Violence continues to displace farmers in northern Colombia

‘Cowardly attack’ exposes Colombia activists in firing line

Venezuela: Who are the colectivos?

Failed Venezuela uprising benefits armed and criminal groups

14th May – 20th May

‘Flying Ginsu’ missile won’t resolve U.S. targeted killing controversy

Rebels say Syrian army fails to retake Latakia mountain

Egypt’s Sinai: At least 47 fighters, 5 troops killed in battle

A look at Iran’s regional proxy militias

Pakistan hotel cleared after insurgent attack kills five

Warring Shan armed groups agree to ceasefire

Schoolgirls used as human shields in Congo due to ‘magical powers’ – charities

Back to war: Colombia’s military reports 33% increase in combat kills, 52% increase in captured combatants

ELN still receiving payments from companies in Colombia

Duque is destroying Colombia’s peace process: Farc

21st May – 26th May

Turkey-backed fighters join forces with HTS rebels in Idlib

Dozens killed as rebels launch counterattack in Syria

International community condemns Haftar’s attack on Tripoli’s water

Unknown group claims Baghdad rocket attack as retaliation for Trump soldier pardon

Egypt kills suspected fighters a day after tourist bus bombing

Zakir Musa: Tensions in Kashmir after killing of top rebel

Militants kill at least 25 Nigerian soldiers, some civilians in ambush: sources

Fears of Ebola pandemic is violent attacks continue in DR Congo

Armed group kills 34 civilians in Central African Republic

In Colombia’s Tumaco, the war isn’t over, it’s just beginning