Should France return families of jihadists? The ECHR ruled on Wednesday

The Court was seized by two French couples who asked the French authorities for the repatriation of their two daughters, who were members of the jihadists, and their three grandchildren.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) handed down its long-awaited ruling on Wednesday, September 14 to repatriate the families of French jihadists, two months after Paris, has long been reluctant to return its nationals. who left to wage jihad in Syria. , brought back 35 minors and 16 mothers.

The Grand Chamber, supreme formation of European jurisdiction, will give its decision at 11:00 am (09:00 GMT), one year after the hearing held at the end of September 2021. The Court is seized by two French couples who in vain asked the French authorities to return home their daughters, two young women who were with the jihadists, and their three children. The four applicants maintain that this refusal violates several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, a text that the ECHR is responsible for implementing, especially by exposing their daughters and grandchildren to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.

Don’t “blow up the last bastion which is the child and the innocence of the child”

The two women left France in 2014 and 2015 to join Syria where they gave birth to two children for one, one for the other. Now aged 31 and 33, they have been detained together since the beginning of 2019 in the Al-Hol and Roj camps in northeastern Syria. Asked by AFP, the father of one of them, who wished to remain anonymous, said “reasonably optimistic” as a condemnation of France. “We are waiting for the recognition of the law. Bring them home and judge them (in France) because of what they did”. If the ECHR does not judge France, “That will mean (that Paris) has the right to keep children in war zones (…) because their parents made the wrong choices”, estimated Me Marie Dosé, one of the families’ lawyers. He called not to do “jump over the last wall which is the child and the innocence of the child”.

The decision of the judicial arm of the Council of Europe will be closely examined beyond France because it is also concerned with the hundreds of European nationals currently detained in Syria. Seven Member States of the Council (Norway, Denmark, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Sweden) thus intervened in the procedure. This pause “go beyond the Franco-French framework” and “mark the Court’s case law”, it is estimated with the Defender of Rights, the French ombudsman responsible for protecting the rights, especially of children. An independent administrative authority, the Defender intervened in the procedure before the ECHR and has already questioned the French government on this subject on several occasions since 2019, considering that it does not consider the best interests of the child. In February, Paris was even chosen by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which considered it to be in France “The rights of French children trapped in Syria are being violated by failing to return them”.

The case-by-case doctrine

“The Central Question” in this file, it is the “jurisdiction”, explains the institution: does France exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction over these mothers and their children in Syria? In any case this is the first time that the ECHR will discuss this question. It is from this recognition of jurisdiction that the obligation of the State to return these children and their mothers arises, underlined the Defender. Elsewhere in Europe, countries such as Germany or Belgium have recovered most of their jihadists. For its part, to the chagrin of families and NGOs, Paris has long favored the “case by case”doctrine defended before the ECHR on its behalf.

But in early July, France sent back 35 minors and 16 mothers, the first large-scale repatriation since the fall in 2019 of the “caliphate” of the Islamic State (IS) group. Until then, only a few children were brought back. The mothers, all targeted by search warrants or French arrests, were charged and imprisoned, the minors were entrusted to Childhood Social Aid. According to the coordinator of French intelligence and the fight against terrorism, Laurent Nunez, there remained after this operation a hundred women and nearly 250 French children in camps in Syria. “If we can, we will carry out repatriation operations”he told AFP in mid-July.

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