CEP Policy Paper: Prosecution Of Returnees from Syria and Iraq in France

(New York, N.Y.) — The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) published a new policy paper, Prosecution of Returnees from Syria and Iraq in France: Insights and Recommendations for Policymakers and Security Agencies, the second in a series of papers analyzing the prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration of returnees in European countries. The latest paper, authored by CEP Senior Research Analyst Sofia Koller, features an analysis and series of recommendations surrounding the prosecution of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) who left France to travel to the territory of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq and have since returned home.

Over the last decade, more than 28 percent of all European FTFs originated in France, and about one-third of these are women. Though 656 French nationals or residents have returned to France voluntarily, were deported from Turkey, or were repatriated, several hundred men, women, and minors—French nationals or residents—remain in camps and detention facilities administered by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northeast Syria. Their repatriation is essential given the obvious security and humanitarian concerns as well as international legal obligations and French interests in enforcing the rule of law.

Returnees are often prosecuted in French courts on charges of “association of wrongdoing in relation to a terrorist enterprise” (AMT). As of January 2023, 305 returnees—198 men and 107 women—have been prosecuted in France and 192 returnees have been convicted, including 156 men and 36 women.

The French approach encounters several challenges including lack of repatriation, limited resources and access to evidence, prison capacity, and recidivism risks. The country’s approach to prosecution thus far has also been through the lens of French national security rather than international crimes, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. To overcome these, Koller recommends critical reforms including an increased effort to repatriate French nationals and residents and enhancing cooperation with Yazidi communities and non-governmental organizations in the search for potential victims, co-plaintiffs, and witnesses. To do so, France should commit to providing culturally sensitive counseling and psychosocial support to victims as well as providing interpretation and translation services.

CEP Senior Research Analyst Sofia Koller said:

“Policymakers must establish protocols to repatriate all remaining French citizens and minors with a connection to France from Northeast Syria and Iraq. Additionally, French authorities should expand cooperation with Yazidis and non-governmental organizations, particularly as the first war crimes cases are expected to be heard before French courts in the coming months. Finally, to support the over-burdened criminal justice system, France must provide access to evidence gathered by various international bodies to ensure accurate accountability measures are taken.”

For more information on the prosecution of returnees in France well as CEP’s complete policy recommendations, the paper Prosecution Of Returnees from Syria and Iraq in France is available here.

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