UN experts call for repatriating detained children in Syria

March 31, 2023

GENEVA, Mar 31, CMC – United Nations experts Friday called on governments “to bring home” children in conflict zones, saying they must be protected and not punished.

In a joint statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of human rights, while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ni Aoláin and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said “it is now time to bring them home.

“Many children are now entering their fifth year of detention in northeast Syria, since they were detained by the de facto authorities following the fall of Baghouz in early 2019,” they said, calling on all actors to ensure the immediate safety and protection of all children, regardless of their location in northeastern Syria to prevent them from suffering further harm.

They said countries have an obligation to protect vulnerable children from abuse and possible violations of their right to life, as recognised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“Their best interests as extremely vulnerable children must be reinstated as a guiding principle together with their primary status as victims of terrorism and as children in need of special protection under international law,” they said.

Earlier this week, the former speaker of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament, Nizam Mohammed described as “complicated and tedious” efforts by the government to bring back at least 100 nationals stranded in countries such  as Syria and deemed as conflict zones.

“A lot of discussions have taken place and we have looked at all the ramifications surrounding the return of our people from Syria,” said Mohammed, who has been advising the  government  on the issue.

Mohammed led a three-member delegation for a two-hour meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley on Monday and a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister following the deliberations said “the meeting focused on the issue of Trinidad and Tobago nationals stranded in countries deemed conflict zones” without elaborating.

It said that “this  group has been in ongoing discussions with the Muslim Community as it relates to this matter”.

Mohammed told reporters that while the government is committed to bringing back the nationals, including women and children currently held at detention camps and jails in Syria and Iraq, however, there are technical issues that need to be sorted out and determinations on how costly the exercise will be.

“The government is committed to repatriating our citizens, but we have all agreed it is a matter that is of a highly technical nature,” Mohammed said, adding “it involves international relations, it involves other countries.

“We’ve got to collaborate and to co-operate and to seek assistance where assistance is required and that kind of thing,” Mohammed said, describing the issue as “rather comprehensive.

“It is estimated that you have over 100 of our people out there and each one is going to be a special case. Therefore, you can understand how complicated and tedious, possibly a very tedious exercise.

“It is not a simple matter of just taking our people and bringing them back home. All the circumstances surrounding this situation are such that they have all kinds of international implications and the government, though it is committed, has to be very thorough in its approach,” he added.

In their joint statement on Friday, the UN experts said Al-Hol and Roj are the two largest locked camps for women, girls, and young boys, holding about 56,000 individuals, including 37,000 foreign nationals.  They said over half of the population in the camps are children, of which 80 per cent are under the age of 12 and 30 per cent under five.

“There are also over 850 boys deprived of their liberty in prisons and other detention centres, including supposed rehabilitation centres, throughout northeast Syria.

The mass detention of children for what their parents may have done is an egregious violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits all forms of discrimination and punishment of a child based on the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of their parents, the experts said.

“These children are detained without any legal basis, judicial authorisation, review, control, or oversight, in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which affirms no child shall be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily,” they said.

The experts said that most children have known nothing but conflict and closed camps, where the life conditions amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and pose an imminent risk to their lives, physical and mental integrity, and development.

“These squalid camps are no place for children to live with dignity. They lack access to the most basic needs such as medical treatment and health services, food, water, and education.”

Amid a deteriorating security situation, the experts said all children in this conflict zone deserve to be protected, not punished.

“These children are victims of terrorism and of very serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and must be treated with dignity in all contexts, whether armed conflict or terrorism,” the experts said.

“Safe return to their home countries, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is the only solution and must be prioritised.

“States must urgently repatriate children, together with their mothers – a solution that we now know is eminently feasible. We note that it is of the utmost importance that comprehensive rehabilitation programmes are in place when children are repatriated,” thee experts added.

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