The wives and children of foreign Islamic State
fighters should be taken back by their countries of origin, UN rights
chief Michelle Bachelet demanded on Monday.
"Foreign family members should be repatriated, unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards," she said in her opening speech at the UN Human Rights Council, which started its annual summer session in Geneva.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are 29,000 children of foreign fighters in Syria, of which 20,000 are from Iraq. In total, more than 55,000 suspected Islamic State extremists and their families have been detained in Syria and Iraq. Most of them are citizens of these two countries.
The children have suffered serious rights violations, including some who were indoctrinated with extremist ideology and were forced to commit violence, UN High Commissioner Bachelet said. "The primary consideration must be their rehabilitation, protection and best interests," she said. In recent weeks, children were returned to Australia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the United States and Turkey, but Bachelet said that the problem is not given adequate attention by many governments.
Britain is still debating how to handle the issue of children after several government ministers insisted in recent months that they do not want to take back any Islamic State fighters. Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt said earlier this month that Britain should take back the children, but she added that "extracting them would be a very difficult thing to do," as it would require their parents' consent. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has said that he must proceed with great caution regarding returning foreign fighters and their families. "First of all, I need reliable information on whether they are really Germans," he said in May.
Although Nordic countries have taken back children, the process has been slow as governments have also cited security concerns, as well as the difficulty of clarifying identities. Bachelet also warned countries against revoking the citizenship of people who went to fight for Islamic State in Syria or Iraq. "Rendering people stateless is never an acceptable option," she said, adding that children suffer especially from such measures, because it creates problems with schooling and with getting health care. Bachelet did not advocate the repatriation of fighters, but demanded that they get fair trials. Flawed judicial procedures, inhumane detention and death sentences would only breed revenge, she warned.
The Human Rights Council meets until July 12 to discuss issues such as the ongoing crisis in Venezuela and violence in Sudan. The murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi is scheduled to be discussed on Wednesday. The council meets three times a year and deals with current crises as well as broader issues such as women's rights or freedom of expression. Last year, the US resigned from the council on the grounds that there were too many human rights violators at the table. The 47 member countries are elected by the UN General Assembly for a three-year term. The council currently includes China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.
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