UN rights experts urged 57 countries on Monday to repatriate nearly 10,000 of their citizens held in camps in northeast Syria in “sub-human” conditions without legal process.
Most of them are women and children linked to Islamic State (IS) fighters, reports Reuters.
Under international law, these states have a duty to repatriate their citizens and, if there is evidence, to prosecute returned adults for war crimes or other offences at fair trials in their domestic courts, the experts said.
The foreign women and children are among nearly 65,000 people detained at al-Hol and Roj camps, run by Syrian Kurdish authorities, where the majority of residents are Iraqi and Syrian nationals. The UN said last month it had received reports of 12 Syrian and Iraqi nationals being murdered in the first half of January at al-Hol camp.
“The matter is one of extreme urgency,” Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, told a news briefing.
She called the list of 57 countries, which include Britain, China, France, Russia and the US a “list of shame”. She also criticised “an uptick in nationality stripping”, noting it is unlawful to leave someone stateless.
“These women and children are living in what can only be described as horrific and sub-human conditions. The conditions in these camps may reach the threshold of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law,” she said.
She told reporters that many of the women had been “groomed online” as brides of now-dead IS fighters, while the children “had no say in what brought them there”.
Few countries have so far brought their citizens home. Canada, Finland and Kazakhstan have repatriated some nationals, Ni Aolain said, welcoming “the trickle of returns”.
She compared the “illegal detention” to that of security suspects held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay for years without charge.
She told reporters, “These women and children are a convenient battering ram on all the fears of state and the public. They are made objects of hate, ridicule and shame.”