Should France repatriate the families of jihadists? The ECHR decides on Wednesday

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivers a long-awaited judgment on Wednesday on the repatriation of families of French jihadists, two months after Paris, long very reluctant to bring back its nationals who left to do jihad in Syria, brought back 35 minors and 16 mothers.

The Grand Chamber, supreme formation of the European jurisdiction, delivers its decision at 11:00 a.m. (09:00 GMT), one year after the hearing, held at the end of September 2021.

The Court was seized by two French couples who had asked the French authorities in vain for the repatriation of their daughters, two young women companions of jihadists, and their three children.

The four applicants maintain that this refusal violates the European Convention on Human Rights, a text that the ECHR is responsible for enforcing, in particular by exposing their daughters and grandchildren to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.

The two women had 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 held with them since the beginning of 2019 in the Al-Hol and Roj camps in northeastern Syria.

– “Last rampart” –

Asked by AFP, the father of one of them, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he was “reasonably optimistic” about a condemnation from France. “We are waiting for the recognition of the law. That they be repatriated and judged (in France) for what they have done”.

If the ECHR does not condemn France, “that will mean (that Paris) has the right to keep children in a war zone (…) because their parents have made the wrong choices”, estimated Me Marie Dosé, one of the family lawyers. She calls not to “blow up the last bastion that is the child and the innocence of the child”.

The decision of the judicial arm of the Council of Europe will be scrutinized well beyond France because it also concerns European nationals detained in Syria. Seven member states of the Council (Norway, Denmark, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Sweden) thus intervened in the procedure.

This judgment “goes beyond the Franco-French framework” and “will mark the jurisprudence of the Court”, considers the Defender of Rights, the French ombudsman responsible for the defense of rights, in particular those of children.

An independent administrative authority, it intervened in the procedure before the ECHR and had already questioned the French government on this subject on several occasions since 2019, already considering that it did not take into account the best interests of the child.

In February, Paris was even singled out by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which considered that France had “violated the rights of French children detained in Syria by failing to repatriate them”.

– “Jurisdiction” –

“The central question” is that of “jurisdiction”, explains the institution: does France exercise its jurisdiction extraterritorially over these mothers and their children in Syria? It is in any case the first time that the ECHR will consider this question.

It is indeed from this recognition of jurisdiction that stems the obligation of the State to repatriate these children and their mothers, emphasizes the Defender.

Elsewhere in Europe, countries like Germany or Belgium have already recovered most of their jihadists. For its part, to the great displeasure of families and NGOs, Paris has long favored the “case by case” doctrine defended before the ECHR by its representative.

But in early July, France brought back 35 minors and 16 mothers, the first massive repatriation since the fall in 2019 of the “caliphate” of the Islamic State (IS) group. Until then, only a few children had been brought back.

Among them, Emilie König, one of the best-known French jihadists, as well as the widow of Samy Amimour, one of the three assailants of the attacks on the Bataclan concert hall on November 13, 2015 in Paris.

The mothers, all targeted by a search warrant or French arrest, were charged and imprisoned, the minors entrusted to the Childhood Social Aid.

After this operation, there remained a hundred French women and nearly 250 children in camps in Syria, said Laurent Nuñez, then coordinator of French intelligence and the fight against terrorism. “Whenever we can, we will carry out repatriation operations,” Mr. Nuñez, who has since become Paris police chief, told AFP.

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