Repatriation of jihadist families: soon the end of the “French Guantanamo”?

By finally ordering the repatriation, on Tuesday, July 5, 2022, of thirty-five children and their jihadist mothers – or jihadist wives – from the camps in northern Syria, Emmanuel Macron would have decided to put an end to this. “French Guantanamo” where, explains journalist Nicolas Hénin, our country “outsource the detention of its nationals to the Kurdish armed forces in exchange for money, weapons and advice”? This diplomatic turnaround, if it continues (there would still be 160 children and 75 mothers to repatriate), was long ago required and is justified by the unsustainable legal and ethical situation in which France found itself.

While traveling to Syria in June 2019, Marc was Had not “could only see his four grandchildren through the fence before being chased away by armed men while Swedish and Austrian families entered the camp for a good hour”. A memory that is so much the more painful for Marc, as his daughter-in-law and his four children are not part of the July 5 repatriation.

Similarly, the co-founder and former president of the humanitarian organization Médecins du monde Patrick Aeberhard would go to the Roj camp with a child psychiatrist colleague. “French authorities [qui] the lobby for [l’]Prevent it”. This cardiologist thinks “Completely upset to see this at the end of [sa] career when France has done so much for humanitarian law “as illustrated by his autobiographical account In the noise of the world (Calmann-Levy, 2022).

Fact, “France and the Kurds in Syria would have reached an agreement so that no French visitors could visit the camp”believes to know the former Consul General of France in Iraqi Kurdistan, Frédéric Tissot.

The French blockade

When not counting their children, sometimes born “in the area,” 1,450 French jihadists or adult residents have traveled to Syria and Iraq since 2012, according to Jean-Charles Brisard, president of the Center for Terrorism Analysis. Either the largest workforce out of a total of 5,000 Europeans. However, after repatriating about thirty children in several operations, the government had since the beginning of 2021 rejected all requests for return from families, while Belgium in June, like Finland, Denmark and Germany earlier, conducted a new repatriation operation.

Advocate for the Collective of United Families, which brings together families of French people who have traveled to join Daesh, Marie Dosé waged an extensive struggle to warn public opinion as well as the cultural and political world about this situation, which is unworthy of from an ethical point of view, where children who have not asked for anything are forced to bear the responsibility for their parents’ choices.

Finally, France’s position, which consists in leaving children subjected to inhuman treatment and threatened with serious and illegal violations of the right to life, is totally contrary to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Children’s brainwashing does not exist, nor for adults for that matter.”

Guillaume Monod, psychiatrist

Of course, it is also domestic policy considerations that explain the authorities’ long immobility. After bathing in Daesh’s deadly ideology, these children, even very young ones, would be “ticking bombs”, we often hear. Interviewed by BFMTV in January 2022, the National Coordinator for Intelligence and Combating Terrorism, Laurent Nuñez, had insisted on the danger and indoctrination of certain children, which justified the case-by-case policy now visibly abandoned.

Psychiatric expert at the court in Bobigny, Serge Hefez, accompanied several of the children who had already returned from Syria: “They are reintegrated, they have regained family ties, some have had difficulties, but they are not potential terrorists”, he said. Same analysis from psychiatrist Guillaume Monod, who follows jihadists in prison: “Brainwashing of children does not exist, not even for adults for that matter. Look at the Hitler Youth: at the end of the war they laid down their weapons, which was not an attack on the Allied occupying forces.

The National Advisory Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), which is responsible for advising the French authorities and monitoring France’s international obligations, called in a statement delivered unanimously in plenary on 16 December 2021. “again”in the most compelling terms, the government “to repatriate these children and the parent present without delay”a position also taken by the defender of rights Jacques Toubon and then by her successor, Claire Hédon.

Faced with the failure of the French courts, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), for its part, was seized and was soon to rule in the “Grand Chamber”, that is, in a very solemn manner, on the legality of such refusals. A verdict would be devastating to the image of France and its very European president. Would the repatriation on July 5 aim to prevent it?

Credibility issue

In 2019, 89% of French people said they were worried about a return of French jihadists, and two-thirds of them wanted their children to stay in Iraq and Syria, as revealed by an Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting study was made amid the “yellow vests” crisis, which prompted President Macron to cancel an impending large-scale repatriation, Liberation then revealed.

“There is a morality of words, it is true for an individual, as it is true for a state: our words bind us.”

François Zimeray, former French Ambassador for Human Rights

Three and a half years later, the presidential and parliamentary elections are over. Whatever one thinks of the verdict, the so-called trial on November 13 was of outstanding quality; France did not spare the funds for its equipment and gave ten months to suspected terrorists to defend themselves. But in France, this “exemplary trial” risked being overturned by another France, which on the contrary accused of violating international law by refusing to repatriate 200 French children from northern Syria.

In this case, which also concerns terrorism, France is no longer the rule of law it used to be in the trial on 13 November. Since the repatriation on July 5, the two photos match a little more. “Within the international community, the United Nations, France is strongly and visibly committed to protecting children in armed conflict. The adoption of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and the texts banning the recruitment of child soldiers owe much to French diplomacy. justifies the former French Ambassador for Human Rights, François Zimeray.

“We would lose all credibility if we did not respect the principles we ask other nations to apply; there is a morality of words, it is true of an individual, as it is true of a state: our words oblige us.”he continues.

No rule of law without funds

The often underestimated and little-mentioned question about the means remains. “This blatant act of humanity undoubtedly requires a great deal of mobilization effort from several administrations”tweets the former ambassador and special adviser to the Montaigne Institute, Michel Duclos.

Justice must take its responsibility. At the end of the trial on 13 November, Jean-François Ricard of the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office said that if the hundreds of French women – jihadists or jihadist wives – currently detained by the Kurds in Syria were repatriated to be convicted in France, “We could do it”.

The victims of November 13 know better than anyone else that there is no rule of law without real funds.

If it is not in the judicial system, then the weak link would be in the prison system? “Prison institutions that receive women are few and already overcrowded. So it would be unmanageable to add 100 women, even in preventive detention, to the approximately 2,800 women already imprisoned. describes Guillaume Monod, author of In prison, words from jihadists (Gallimard, 2019), unless the French Government really gives itself the financial and material means. “

In fact, a new specific unit for assessing radicalization for women detained for terrorism has just opened in the Rennes Detention Center. Also necessary: ​​increased staff resources for child welfare structures, foster families and associations.

As for the reluctant French, they might be surprised to hear that more victims of the attacks, and therefore the people who are supposedly the least likely to call for these families of jihadists to return, support these repatriations. This is the case with Philippe Duperronchairman of the association 13onze15 – Fraternité et Vérité, and among others Georges Salines or even Emmanuel Domenach.

The victims of 13 November know better than anyone else that there is no rule of law without real means and that it is not a corporeal legal concept, but that it is also nurtured by civil society.

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