Australians trapped in Syria should be brought home to justice
The White House announced this week that the US is withdrawing its forces from north-east Syria, giving Turkey the green light to invade and take control of the territory and the foreign terrorist fighters held there, along with the women and children trapped in Syria's al-Hawl camp. This highlights a failed policy by Western states, including Australia, to act on their responsibilities and international obligations towards their citizens.
A Kurdish fighter for the Syrian Democratic Forces on October 7.Credit:AP
The Australian women and children caught up in Syria's al-Hawl camp should be brought home and the women should be investigated for their role, if any, in the commission of any crimes including war crimes.
The suite of measures adopted by Australia are wholly inconsistent with Australia’s obligation and duty to prosecute international crimes: the measures of citizenship revocation, temporary exclusion orders and a prosecutorial policy of pursuing only terrorism-related charges diminish our responsibilities and obligations as an international citizen. Take the case of Neil Prakash, who was stripped of his citizenship while Australia was still seeking his extradition, causing confusion in Turkey and ultimately resulting in Australia failing to have him extradited. Here was a missed opportunity to prosecute an IS member in Australia for war crimes or genocide, indictable offences in our Commonwealth Criminal Code.
The AFP issued a warrant for Prakash’s arrest and extradition on terrorism-related charges in 2015. He was caught in Turkey in 2016. At the time of his arrest he remained an Australian citizen and Australia was confident the Turkish authorities would allow his extradition to Australia. Prakash was then stripped of his citizenship in late December 2018. He currently remains in prison in Turkey on appeal, following his sentencing for membership of a terrorist organisation. This was welcome news to Prakash, who had stated that he did not wish to return to Australia to face terrorism charges.
Australia’s stripping of his citizenship caused confusion to the court in Turkey, and Turkey subsequently rejected Australia’s extradition request in July 2018. Although Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the time vowed to press for Prakash’s extradition, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was keen for Prakash to no longer be an Australian problem.
Other than his role as an IS member and recruiter, Prakash is said to have been a supervisor while stationed in Mosul, Iraq. The Age and Sydney Morning Herald journalist Michael Bachelard spoke to an Iraqi man from Mosul who witnessed Prakash walking around the town with bodyguards and seeing that punishments were meted out to Mosul’s civilian population. These punishments included having one’s hands cut off for stealing, being beheaded for involvement in Iraq’s army, or being thrown off an eight-storey building for homosexual acts.
All of these acts are war crimes against the civilian population and could amount to crimes against humanity. Furthermore, a case in relation to Prakash’s role in recruiting and inciting violence and death in light of IS’s genocidal violence against the Yazidi people could amount to incitement to genocide.
Despite previously encouraging statements from Peter Dutton to support investigations, and the international mechanisms that Australian investigators and prosecutors have access to, Australian authorities have not taken any active steps to comply with obligations to repatriate and prosecute Australian IS members for international crimes. The prosecutorial strategy of pursuing foreign fighters for terrorism charges only is inadequate and sluggish.
Dutton has shown respect and admiration to the Yazidi people. Can he extend that respect and consider the opportunity to deliver them justice as victims of persecution and genocidal violence?
European countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands and Finland have all taken active steps to investigate and prosecute their citizens and non-citizens for international crimes in addition to terrorism offences. Australia lags significantly behind these countries in efforts to ensure that perpetrators of international crimes do not enjoy impunity.
The prosecution of international crimes provides meaningful opportunities for justice and accountability for the victims and survivors of the crimes and it reflects the scope and nature of the violations committed.
Australia should be doing more to bring back all its citizens and placing those of them involved in the commission of international crimes on trial. Those Australian women not involved in crimes and their children should be rehabilitated. Preventing the Australian fighters, the women and the children from returning to Australia, or stripping them of their citizenship while offshore, leaves the risk and the burden they represent on other nations and societies that are inadequately resourced or prepared to deal with them.
Rawan Arraf is an Australian lawyer and the director of the Australian Centre for International Justice.
Source: Read Full Article