Original article by Wladimir van Wilgenburg, Kurdistan 24.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold thousands of Islamic State fighters and their families. Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF press office, told Kurdistan 24 during a recent international forum that the solution is to set up an international court to try these foreign terrorists in Syria’s Kurdish-run northeast.
Over 200 people, including experts from different countries, attended the three-day event on the so-called Islamic State which the Rojava Strategic Research Center (NRLS) organized in Syrian Kurdistan’s (Rojava) Amude.
In an interview with Kurdistan 24 on the sidelines of the conference, Bali said the foreign Islamic State fighters who are held in SDF prisons “have asked to be transferred to their respective countries, and be tried at home.”
“Yet, these fighters have committed crimes against humanity on our soil, and not in their countries,” he added.
According to the SDF official, these foreign Islamic State fighters hope they will receive short-term prison sentences if they face trial in their home states.
“An alternative that we have proposed since these fighters have committed crimes here in Syria, was to establish an international court here – either under the auspices of the United Nations or the [US-led] Coalition – provided that it will be an official international court, and legitimately supported by the international community.”
Under the rule of such a court, each Islamic State fighter must be tried according to their crimes, including fighters who have killed innocent people, children, and women, Bali said.
“We hope this court will be founded here. Some practical steps have been taken; a positive dialogue is ongoing between the respective states.”
No Final ISIS Defeat
Nevertheless, Bali said such a court would not result in the final defeat of the Islamic State but would only put members of the terror group who have committed crimes on trial.
“The struggle against ISIS is not only a military or legal struggle; before everything, it is a political challenge as well as an educational one,” he said, warning that the group may remerge “under a new name.”
According to Bali, the guarantee to defeat the Islamic State or any form of terrorism requires two vital conditions to be realized.
First, the formation of a democratic system in the SDF-held north and east of Syria. “Within this system, each and every component of the society must be able to represent themselves under a decentralized system,” he told Kurdistan 24.
The second condition is to “make sure there are long-term education programs that the current and next generations will be taught to accept the diversities in the region,” Bali said.
“Religious or national racism must be demolished, and all of these must lead to a democratic society,” the SDF official added. “And, more importantly, economic opportunities must be provided for the people.”
No Threat to Turkey
Apart from the ongoing threat of the Islamic State to the north and east of Syria, Turkey has also threatened to attack the Syrian Kurds. However, Amb. James Jeffrey, Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, is continuing talks separately with the SDF and Turkey to establish a safe zone.
Mazlum Abdi, the SDF Commander-in-Chief, mentioned earlier that “Turkey’s concerns must be taken into consideration” as well.
“Mr. Jeffrey, along with the US military’s partnership in the region, is involved in political dialogue and a close contact with all parties. They have some proposals for us and other parties, including Turkey,” Bali said.
“Turkey is a neighbor country of Syria, and indeed it is important that this neighborhood is built on the base of brotherhood—that we would not be a threat to Turkey, likewise, Turkey will not be threat to our region.”
Bali said dialogue based on “mutual respect and acceptance” is necessary to end the atmosphere of threats.
“We hope that these steps will interpret into political outcomes in the framework of a joint dialogue,” he stated.
In the meantime, the United States has asked several Coalition members, including Germany, to deploy their forces on the ground. Most European countries, however, are skeptical about such a proposal.
“Those [requests] are included in the framework of Mr. Jeffrey’s mission, and the negotiations about a ‘safe zone;’ that’s how we can look at these developments.”