U.S.-Backed SDF Want an International Tribunal to Prosecute IS Prisoners

The U.S-backed Syrian fighters who drove the Islamic State from its last strongholds are calling for an international tribunal to prosecute hundreds of foreigners rounded up in the nearly five-year campaign against the extremist group, AP/TIME informs.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said such a tribunal is needed “for justice to take its course,” particularly after countries have refused to bring home their detained nationals. The SDF has captured more than 1,000 foreign fighters, including many from Western countries.

“We don’t have other options. No one wanted to take the responsibility (of repatriating their nationals). We can’t put up with this burden alone,” Abdulkerim Umer, a foreign affairs official in the Kurdish-led administration, told The Associated Press.

Western allies have largely refused to take back their detained citizens, fearing they would not be able to convict them in civilian courts and that they could pose a security risk. The problem has grown more urgent since President Donald Trump announced his intention to reduce the U.S. military presence in Syria, where American forces are fighting alongside the SDF.

“It is an exceptional situation and we are looking at an exceptional framework,” said Ilham Ahmed, the head of the political arm of the SDF, told the AP. “We are dealing with a failed state. In this case we can treat the (Kurdish-administered) region as an exception.”

Asked about the tribunal proposal in Washington, U.S. special envoy for Syria and the anti-IS coalition, Jim Jeffrey, said: “We’re not looking at that right now.”

Jeffrey said the priority is to deal with the Iraqi and Syrian prisoners, which he estimated at 7,000 held in eastern Syria and representing the vast majority of those in detention. The second priority, Jeffrey said, is convincing the home countries of the foreign fighters to take them back.

Umer said foreign fighters should be tried where their crimes occurred and where they were detained. “The international community has evaded its responsibility, so we ask that they help us set up the court here,” he said.

The SDF has been fighting IS since 2014 and has retaken large areas in northern and eastern Syria. Its administration is not recognized internationally or by the Syrian government, which has vowed to bring all the country’s territory back under its control.

They have reportedly captured more than 5,000 militants – from Syria and abroad – since January and put them in detention centres, while women and children are kept in camps for the displaced, BBC informs.

The Kurdish-led administration has asked the government to grant it autonomy in a new constitution, something Damascus has roundly rejected. Umer said the issue of the foreign detainees is therefore an “exceptional case” that requires an international tribunal. He said the presence of the foreign fighters is a “big problem” that could stoke further instability in the region.

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