The court had been seized by two French couples who had asked the French authorities to repatriate their two daughters, companions of jihadists, and their three grandchildren.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issues on Wednesday 14 September a highly anticipated ruling on the repatriation of the families of French jihadists, two months after Paris, which has long been very reluctant to bring back its citizens who had left to jihad in Syria, reported 35 minors and 16 mothers.
The Grand Chamber, the supreme formation of the European jurisdiction, will deliver its decision at 11:00 (09:00 GMT), one year after the hearing held at the end of September 2021. The Court had been seized by two French couples who had requested the repatriation of their daughters, two young women companions of jihadists, and their three sons, are in vain for the French authorities. The four applicants argue that this refusal violates several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, a text that the ECHR is required to enforce, in particular by exposing daughters and grandchildren to “Inhuman and degrading treatment”.
It does not “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 reach 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 early 2019 in Al-Hol and Roj camps in northeastern Syria. Questioned by the AFP, the father of one of them said that he wishes to remain anonymous “Reasonably optimistic” as to the condemnation of France. “We are waiting for the recognition of the law. Let them be repatriated and tried (in France) for what they did “. If the ECHR does not condemn France, “That would mean (which 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. She calls not to do “jump the last bastion which is the child and the innocence of the child”.
The decision of the judicial arm of the Council of Europe will be examined far beyond France as it also affects the hundreds of European citizens currently detained in Syria. Seven Council Member States (Norway, Denmark, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Sweden) thus intervened in the proceedings. This stop “goes beyond the Franco-French framework” and “will mark the Court’s jurisprudence”, was esteemed with the Defender of Rights, the French ombudsman in charge of defending the rights, especially those of children. An independent administrative authority, the Defender intervened in the proceedings before the ECHR and had already questioned the French government on the matter several times since 2019, already believing that he does not take into account the best interests of the child. In February, Paris was even spotted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which believed France did. “Violated the rights of French children detained in Syria by not having repatriated them”.
The case-by-case doctrine
“The central question” of this file, is that of the “Jurisdiction”, explains the institute: does France exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction over these mothers and their children in Syria? However, it is the first time that the ECHR has considered this question. Indeed, it is from this recognition of jurisdiction that the State’s obligation to repatriate these children and their mothers arises, the Defender emphasizes. Elsewhere in Europe, countries like Germany or Belgium have already 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 by its representative.
But in early July, France reported 35 minors and 16 mothers, the first massive repatriation since the fall of 2019 by the Islamic State (IS) “caliphate” group. Until then, only a few children had been reported. Mothers indicted and imprisoned, all targeted by a French search warrant or arrest, minors entrusted to the Social Aid for Children. According to the coordinator of French intelligence and the fight against terrorism, Laurent Nunez, about a hundred French women and nearly 250 children remained in camps in Syria after this operation. “When we can, we will carry out repatriation operations”he told AFP in mid-July.