Current Issues

Establishment of an International Tribunal for ISIS Is a Human Rights and Moral Imperative

Abdulmajeed Qassem

Translated by: Hozan Hadi

After the resounding announcement by the Syrian Democratic Forces of its military victory over the terrorist organization of ISIS in Syria, the elimination of its alleged homeland, and the complete control over ISIS last enclave in the town of Al-Bagouz, in the eastern suburb of Deir Al-Zour, on Saturday, March 23, 2019. This historic victory marks the beginning of a new chapter, not only in the history of the region, but in the history of the whole world; it has been a victory of humanity, and of the hopes of the peoples in a free and decent life.

With unparalleled boldness and after nearly five years of fighting, these forces cleansed the entire east of the Euphrates and ended ISIS control of the vast territory it had controlled in earlier times.

Only two days after this declaration, the Syrian Democratic Forces called on the United Nations and the international community in a statement to establish a special international tribunal to try foreign  ISIS elements meeting international standards on the human rights side: “We call upon the international community to establish a special international tribunal to try ISIS terrorists in northern and eastern Syria,” the statement said, pointing out that militants must be tried “in the place of the crime” i.e. in northern and eastern Syria. The statement added: The establishment of this tribunal allows that “the trial is conducted fairly, in accordance with international law and the covenants and conventions on human rights.” Many jurists in north-eastern Syria have expressed their full readiness to cooperate in the work of this tribunal.

This call came in particular after the surrender of thousands of the extremist militant during the recent attack by the Syrian Democratic Forces on the last strongholds of the organization in the Baguoz. In addition to the arrest of these large numbers of ISIS members, who are of different 55 nationalities, there are more than 9 thousand people of their families; Mr. Luqman Ahmi, the self-administration spokesman for northern and eastern Syria, said that there are more than 6,500 children among the foreigners in the camp pointing out that the numbers are not final. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, combing operations continue in the eastern sector of Deir al-Zour countryside which is a heavily mined area, because of the concentration of ISIS members there, which increases the chances of arresting more.

Despite repeated calls of self-government to the western countries to take back their nationals who have joined ISIS with their families in order to be tried, most of their governments have so far refused to do so. “The number of foreign detainees, apart from the Iraqis, exceeds 1,300…From the beginning, we have urged the countries that ISIS prisoners have their nationalities to take back their citizens and try them in their countries, Since in northern Syria we do not have recognized legal ground, but regrettably did not get the response as required” said Mustafa Bali, director of the media center of the SDF to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur adding: “We call upon the United Nations to establish a special international tribunal for ISIS terrorists under the UN umbrella, with its funding and under its supervision so the terrorists will be tried in northern and eastern Syria and kept in special prisons under UN supervision- This solution may be satisfactory to all parties”

ISIS; which was a dark chapter in the human history is charged with war crimes such as mass executions, rapes, kidnappings, and brutal attacks in several areas in nearly five years of the (Caliphate State), Which was announced in Syria and Iraq, in 2014. Mass graves are still being discovered; the number of victims estimated by a UN commission of inquiry was 12,000 bodies in Iraq and five thousand in northern Syria. The United Nations is also investigating genocide against the Yezidi minority in Iraq in addition to other crimes, such as attacks on monuments and the destruction of many of the sites that are globally classified. In general, the establishment of an international tribunal to hold ISIS accountable for its atrocities will be a strong collective response to the crimes it has committed against humanity as a whole.

It should be noted that the international community has already constituted such an international trial, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which prosecuted the perpetrators of the genocide in that country in addition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which prosecuted persons accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes during battles that swept the Balkans in the 1990s.

The organization of ISIS, which has expanded into a vast geographical area and whose brutal crimes and practices have exceeded its territorial borders in Syria and Iraq to the countries of the Western world, also it has practiced all forms of aggression and posed a transcontinental danger to all human societies, must be held accountable; international accountability before the eyes and ears of the world, This would be a trial of his extremist and dangerous ideology, by calling for the establishment of such a court in the same place as the crimes committed by this criminal organization, in particular that it continues posing threats; despite to its defeat in the Bagouz, there are many of its militiants holeding up in Remote areas, or out of sight, waiting for an opportunity to get out again. One day after the announcement, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced the start of a new phase in fighting ISIS in Syria in cooperation with the International Coalition to completely eliminate the secret military presence of the organization. The international community must – today –  establish a fair international tribunal to hold ISIS accountable complementing what it began in  Fighting with local partners against the organization militarily through the international coalition of 69 countries, including Arab countries, which lunched its military operations in practice, on the first of November, 2014.

On the subject of the challenge that the Democratic Self-administration faces in the dossier of prisoners, who are a burden on it, the debate on the establishment of this international tribunal, and the criteria to be taken into consideration about its establishment, Mr, Aldar Khalil; a Member, Governing Body of Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM) Stated to Rojava Media Network: “the presence of ISIS elements in our hands means the presence of a bomb; can explode at any moment, there are thousands of them, in addition to their children and their wives, who pose an additional danger. In fact, this file is a very broad and complex one, originally, each state should take its own citizens and try them there, but we have not received positive signs in this regard. In such a case, an international tribunal must be established and the self-administration must be involved in, as happened to the Nazis during the Second World War, this tribunal must be based in Kobani where ISIS started to collapse and let the whole world will witness it. Let the judges, politicians, and media come to see the trials conducted according to international laws and customs. If these occur, it will add more to the democratic experiment of the self-administration- north and northeast of Syria, which frankly declared the necessity of establishing such a tribunal and clarifying the human rights aspects of the crimes committed against innocent people, such as the killing and displacement of the Yazidis, as well as of thousands of innocent people in the cities and towns of our regions, which subjected to the most gruesome methods, so people can file lawsuits in this court to be followed. This court will be a trial of this ideology, of this dehumanizing thrust that swept over the region and its people”.

About the possibility of the States of international coalition to establish the proposed court, Khalil said: “Establishing an international tribunal against ISIS by an UN resolution is better -in our favor- than a tribunal will be established by the International Coalition against ISIS; the latest way is still important, but the first one differs that the issue will take greater dimensions globally”.

As to the reactions of some international Jurists, the responsible of the international programme of criminal justice and transitional justice in the  Institute of Advanced Studies in Paris Joel Hobrecht said: “What justify the establishment of this tribunal and try the responsibles of the crimes is the international character of the crimes committed by the organization, just as the Nuremberg Tribunal, which tried leaders of the German Nazi Party; those responsible for war crimes during the Second World War”, he believes it will be” a much stronger and more comprehensive judicial response rather than partial prosecutions in each country separately”. According to Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve organization, the international community can provide logistical and legal support to the Kurds to establish local courts that respect international standards.

Nadim Houri, director of the anti-terrorism program at Human Rights Watch stated to AFP; said: “It is an appealing to get help after the international community has left them” to manage the post-ISIS phase and “they are saying it is a shared responsibility”

Under the lack of “capacity and impartiality” of the judiciary in Syria or Iraq, the international tribunal can be “a good alternative” says Andrés Niedermayer, a researcher at Harvard University.

As for the official reactions of some countries, the idea of ​​such a tribunal was welcomed by many officials, including the Swedish Prime Minister and internal ministers of Finland and Austria, as well as Germany, which welcomed the idea through its Minister of Interior Horst Zehover, as he think that terrorism is “related to an international movement, and we must respond to it through international justice. in the same context, experts in European political affairs believe that the idea of ​​delegating this task to an international court in the Middle East is “attractive,” emphasizing that “the presence of victims and witnesses in that region may help to provide evidences easily”. As for the Turkish officials in Ankara, the talk about the establishment of this international tribunal, terrifying them, because it may reveal the relations that are no longer hidden between ISIS and Turkey, according to many observers indicate.

On the other hand, the establishment of such a tribunal as a mean necessary to achieve an urgent justice is facing many challenges, according to experts, it requires considerable time and effort; Judicial procedures must be established, judges and lawyers must be trained on these complex issues, aside from who will be tried, and how to prosecute criminals legally according to the decision of establishment of this tribunal, because many of ISIS leaders were killed or fled. Hobrecht explains that Even if a similar court come into existence, it will take “several years” before we see the convictions”.

Experts also say that the idea faces other major difficulties that hinder the establishment of an international tribunal, such as the opposition of some states to this idea for political reasons and the absence of formal relations with self-administration, knowing that the German Foreign Ministry referred to this point.

There is also fear among Europeans of not receiving a fair trial for those people, especially after recently talking about that one of the trials in Iraq took place in ten minutes and ended with a death sentence.

The call for the establishment of an international tribunal to hold accountable the elements of the organization of foreigners is a legitimate call and has a human rights ground. The international community must carry out its human rights duties and call for the establishment of such a tribunal which will prove that no crimes pass without accountability and will restore confidence in international justice, as well as exposing and accounting the countries from which they entered Syria.


France 24- International Media Network – Article Title: International Tribunal for Accountability of the Organization of the Islamic State A Basic Station but Facing Obstacles – Beirut (AFP), 27 March 2019 Website:

Al-Araby Al-Jadeed- Arab Media Network – Article Title: International Tribunal and Cooperation with Interpol to try the European ISIS fighters – Shadi Aacoum – 26 March 2019 Website:

Rojava Newspaper – bi-monthly newspaper published by the Rojava Media Network – The Office of Information for Democratic Self-Administration – No. 47, Monday, 1 April 2019