On January 23, 2022, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the parliamentary arm of the Council of Europe, is to debate and vote on the report and draft resolution on “Addressing the issue of Daesh foreign fighters and their families returning from Syria and other countries to the member States of the Council of Europe.” The report and draft resolution are authored by Mr Pieter Omtzigt, member of the Dutch Parliament, PACE Special Rapporteur on bringing Daesh to justice. Mr Omtzigt authored several other PACE reports and resolutions on Daesh genocidal atrocities and the need for comprehensive responses. He also secured the first determination of the Daesh atrocities as genocide by a major international body. Now, he calls upon PACE members to address the issue of Daesh foreign fighters who may be returned to their European homes.
Daesh, a terror group that included thousands of foreign fighters, among others over 5,000 from Europe, committed murder, enslavement, deportation and forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, torture, abduction of women and children, exploitation, abuse, rape, sexual violence and forced marriage. Governments, parliaments and international bodies have recognized the atrocities as crimes against humanity and war crimes. Where the atrocities are directed against religious or belief numeric minorities, including Yazidis and Christians, the atrocities are said to meet the legal definition of genocide in Article II of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. On August 3, 2014, Daesh unleashed prohibited acts against the Yazidis, an ethno-religious minority group in Iraq. Daesh fighters killed hundreds, if not thousands of men. As part of the same campaign, Daesh fighters abducted boys to turn them into child soldiers and women and girls for sex slavery. More than 2,700 women and children are still missing and their fate is unknown. A few days after the attack on Sinjar, Daesh also attacked the Ninevah Plains and forced over 120,000 people to flee for their lives in the middle of the night.
The determination of genocide has been made by several international bodies, including PACE, the European Parliament, the U.S. State Department, the Canadian and Dutch governments, and over a dozen of parliaments. Most recently, on January 19, 2023, the German Parliament followed the recognition as well.
The international community came together to stop Daesh. However, Daesh is not gone from the region. Furthermore, the ideology of Daesh is far from being countered. As Mr Omtzigt warns, Daesh continues to pose a threat to the communities in the Middle East and “[Daesh] foreign fighters who are suspected of having taken part in genocide or other serious international crimes constitute a serious threat to society. It is an ideology that drove them to commit such crimes, including genocide against the Yazidis.” He further adds that in relation to Daesh foreign fighters, who went to the Middle East to spread havoc and commit atrocities aimed at the destruction of religious or belief minorities, and who continue to pose threat to communities, “it is crucial to consider that they have forfeited their right to family life… separation from their children may also be necessary for the best interest of the child. States should therefore consider repatriating foreign fighters’ children to their State of nationality to be with family members, without repatriating their parents.”
The last eight years have seen very little being done to bring the perpetrators to justice. Mr Omtzigt’s report and draft resolution call for a comprehensive response to the atrocities and responses that are victim- and survivor-centered. In response, on January 19, 2023, several human rights organizations and experts, called upon Members of PACE to support the report and draft resolution and revitalize the efforts to ensure justice and accountability. As their joint statement indicates, “It is essential that every individual who perpetrated or was complicit in these international crimes be held responsible wholly and completely for his or her actions. Unfortunately, as we have seen over recent years, a trend has emerged in parts of Europe and North America in which members of Daesh – particularly female members – seek to escape accountability for their actions by falsely claiming ignorance or victimhood, and by relying on legal manoeuvres to obtain better outcomes for themselves without repentance or remorse.” They further added that “the ongoing threat posed by Daesh fighters, and the omnipresent ideology that drove them to genocidal atrocities, cannot be undermined. As such, ensuring justice and accountability are key. Without it, the growing impunity will only enable further crimes.”
Daesh members cannot escape justice. Equally, victims and survivors cannot wait decades for justice and accountability. As justice is being delayed, it is denied, and it sends the outrageous message that one can get away with genocide. PACE members and politicians globally must find the political will to put victims and survivors – as they have been promising time after time again. Victims and survivors must also be a part of any justice and accountability efforts that affect them. There should be nothing about them, without them.