Tag Archive | "Syria"

Source: The Washington Post

Duty to Repatriate: The Case of Foreign Combatants in Kurdish Prisons

I. Introduction

Source: The Washington Post

Source: The Washington Post

The Kurdish militias in Northern Syria have taken hundreds of foreign detainees over the course of their recent offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).[1]  The Kurdish position is that their home countries should repatriate them, but few countries have consented to do so.[2] The situation of the detainees falls within the minimal protections provided by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions for conflicts that are not of an international character.[3]  Many of the countries with citizens detained by the Kurds are signatories to Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions which sought to further clarify detention for non-international conflicts, however the protocol specifies no previsions for repatriation at the conclusion of hostilities other than to note the captors have an obligation to ensure the safety of the detained upon release.[4]  Between 2007 and 2012, representatives from twenty four countries and several multinational organizations made a considerable effort to reach consensus on applicable international legal regimes in modern conflict and to agree on principles, rules, and standards for treatment of detainees.[5]  This effort culminated in the release of The Copenhagen Process Principle and Guidelines on Detention; however, this framework is inadequate to address what ought to happen to non-state enemy detainees who are being held by a non-state actor like the Kurds.[6] The detainees pose a unique legal challenge for all parties involved.  It is a situation that is largely without precedent and it has no clear solutions.  This article will explore the options and obligations of the international community in bringing these individuals to justice.

II, Background

The Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG), or People’s Protection Units are a Kurdish militia in Northern Syria. They have been key partners to the United States in the war against ISIL in Syria.  From the onset of the U.S. intervention at the Seige of Kobani in 2015, the YPG have proven to be a capable ground force and reliable partner.  The YPG have attracted support from the U.S., French, and British militaries.[7],[8] This has generated substantial tension within NATO as Turkey claims that the YPG is a terrorist group and subordinate to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).[9]

On November 6th, the YPG announced their operation to isolate the ISIL’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria.[10]  By June 6th, 2017, the YPG had successfully seized Tabqah City the strategic Tabqah Dam, and they had encircled Raqqa City.[11]  By October 20th, the city had fallen.[12]  Over the course of the operations, the YPG imprisoned dozens of ISIL combatants on a daily basis.[13]  The United States intelligence community estimated that as many as 40,000 foreign recruits traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIL.  Facing military defeat, many of these foreign fighters attempted to exit the crumbling caliphate the same way they arrived, by crossing the Turkish border.  A large number of these individuals were detained by the YPG as the attempted to cross Kurdish lines north of the Euphrates.

As of July of 2018, the YPG held 593 men from forty seven different countries in detention facilities in Northern Syria.[14]  Roughly eighty were from Europe, with ten to fifteen from France and Germany.[15]  These individuals present a unique problem for the Kurds as they attempt to negotiate their status in a future unified Syria.  The detainees are a major logistical challenge and a resource drain on a minimally equipped militia.  The detainees pose a major security risk. Additionally, historically detention facilities tend to further radicalize extremist inmates,[16]  which poses a major strategic liability.  Turkey has gone to great lengths to portray the YPG as human rights abusers.  The longer these detainees are held, the more likely outside observers are to agree.

III. Options for the Kurds

A. Transfer, Expulsion, or Repatriation

Following the surprise announcement of a full United States withdrawal, the Kurds have hinted that their most likely course of action will be a transfer to the Syrian regime.  This option is not palatable given the Assad regime’s history of grave human rights abuses.[17]  The Kurds are aware the poor optics this option would create with their western benefactors; however, the impending U.S. troop withdrawal leaves them with few options.  One option is to expel the detainees across the border into Turkey.  This is not a viable option because it is quite possible the Kurds would end up meeting these individuals again on the battlefield as members of Turkish support militias, which are in direct conflict with the YPG in Afrin Canton.  Given their lack of both resources and options, the Kurds have requested that the detainees’ home nations repatriate their citizens.  Thus far, few countries have honored their request.

IV. Options for International Community

A. International Criminal Court (ICC)

The crimes perpetrated by the ISIL, namely torture, genocide, use of child soldiers, and sexual slavery, fall squarely within the subject matter jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).[18] The international community is unable to try their crimes in the ICC because the court lacks territorial jurisdiction of both Iraq and Syria, neither of whom are signatories to the Rome Accord.[19]  It is possible for the U.N. Security Council to designate the conflict within the ICC’s jurisdiction but the court has interpreted referrals of “situations” within the context of the Rome Statute as pertaining to specific conflicts, not specific organizations.[20]  For example, the ICC rejected an organization-based designation and favored territorial jurisdiction over all actors in Uganda when Uganda referred their conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army to the ICC in 2002.[21]  This means Russia would likely veto any effort to refer the conflict to ICC jurisdiction since it would expose Russia’s ally, Bashar al-Assad, to ICC prosecution.

B. Independent Criminal Tribunals

Another option to bring these individuals to justice is for the U.N. Security Council to establish a tribunal with specific jurisdiction over ISIL fighters.  There is precedent for this, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.[22]  This option is the most appealing from an ideological standpoint given the chaos that reigns in Syria; however, from a logistical standpoint these tribunals have been extremely costly, have never tried people on the scale that this situation would necessitate, and have not yielded a particularly high conviction rate.[23]  This option may also be counter-productive in countering ISIL’s strategic narrative, since it would likely be perceived as granting victor’s justice and would functionally immunize Bashar al-Assad and his military from prosecution.

V. Options for Detainees’ Home Nations

The detainees’ home nations also have poor options to deal with the detainees.  They can elect to repatriate their citizens or leave them in the indefinite detention of the Kurds.  Repatriating their citizens gives rise to two basic courses of action.  Either the individuals can be tried in the court system of the receiving country, or the home nations can attempt to de-radicalize and reintegrate the individuals.  Both options come with substantial risks.

A. Trial in the Criminal Justice System

The evidence gathered by the Kurds is unlikely to meet the standards of a modern court system.  A few higher profile detainees have video evidence of their criminality through ISIL propaganda, but they are exceptions to the rule.[24]  Witness testimony and electronic records provide hope for prosecution but successful prosecution is by no means normally a sure bet.  The United States is an outlier in this regard.  The Department of Justice has extensively prepared for ISIL fighters to return to U.S. custody by meticulously tracking individuals known to have traveled to Syria to support ISIL.  Known terrorists have prosecutable cases developed so that in the event they return to U.S. custody, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be able to try them in a civilian court.[25]  This model is resource intensive but could be viable for other nations, particularly those with a military or intelligence presence in Syria.

This approach is not without its challenges.  The United States encountered this reality when the U.S. military accepted custody of an American citizen who was previously unknown to the DOJ and who had been detained by the YPG. Ultimately the DOJ decided they lacked sufficient evidence to secure a conviction in a U.S. court.  Rather than return him to the U.S. and risk release, the DOJ and DOD planned to release him back into the Syrian desert (from whence he came) with his personal effects.[26],[27]  It is unclear what this individual’s ultimate fate was, but the possibility of this novel outcome illustrates the dearth of good options nations have to bring these individuals to justice.

B. Reintegration

The other option the detainees’ home nations have is to repatriate their citizens and attempt to deradicalize and reintegrate them.  NATO countries have experimented with this option with varying degrees of success.[28]  While Europe is likely more amendable to this solution than the United States, these programs can offend a sense of justice given the magnitude of ISIL’s crimes and risk provoking counterproductive xenophobic rhetoric.  Given the magnitude of ISIL’s crimes, few want to see these individuals return to society.  Since the bulk of ISIL-aligned terrorists conducting operations outside of Iraq and Syria are citizens of the nations in which they conduct attacks, there is a perception that this option carries substantial security risks.

VI. The Case for Repatriation

The most expedient option for these countries is to reject the YPG overtures to return their citizens and leave them in YPG custody.  Thus far, the detainees’ home nations have largely elected to minimize the risk these individuals pose to society by leaving them in Syria.[29]  The of legal obligation to repatriate these individuals allows these nations to argue that they are not culpable in their citizens’ treatment or detention.  Governments are insulated from the level scrutiny they would face if they detained these individuals without due process on their own soil.  Ultimately rejecting the YPG’s request to repatriate these individuals is shortsighted.  Leaving these detainees to the shifting winds of the civil war in Syria will be viewed as a betrayal of Western ideals.  The decision not to repatriate the detainees has ramifications far beyond overburdening a reliably ally in the fight against the Islamic State.  Most importantly, this course of action will reinforce the ISIL narrative that western powers are rife with hypocrisy, and that Muslims do not enjoy equal protection or status in within civil society.[30]  While ISIL has brought some elements of statehood into its brand of Islamic militancy, it is still grounded in the idea that faith transcends the Westphalian concept of state sovereignty.[31]  Deliberately excluding ISIL adherents from the traditional conception of the state validates the ideological foundations upon which ISIL was founded.  Conversely, returning the detainees to their home jurisdiction for criminal prosecution demonstrates to radicalized individuals that despite their beliefs and their best efforts, they do not and cannot exist outside political and social norms.  

VII. The Way Forward

The long-term solution is for the international community to adopt a law of armed conflict that recognizes the modern realities of non-state actors and intrastate conflicts.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to come to pass in the foreseeable future.  Russia, Iran, and the United States have all extensively exploited gaps left by the current laws of armed conflict within the Syrian Civil War through the use of non-state proxies.  Russia’s use of proxy forces in both Ukraine and Syria, and their use of information operations targeting U.S. elections would likely push the United States in favor of supporting a more comprehensive approach to the law of war which encompasses non-state actors, state sponsor of proxies, and other unconventional means of warfare.  Developing and implementing such a framework with broad international adoption is unlikely while the conflicts continue in Ukraine, Yemen, and Syria.

In the near-term, the home nations of these detainees have a moral obligation to repatriate their citizens.  Leaving these individuals to the Kurds places an unreasonable burden on a reliable partner and validates key aspects of ISIL’s messaging.  Nations can hide behind the reality that they have no legal obligation to repatriate these detainees, but the fact that indefinite detention is legally outsourced makes it no less objectionable.

The United States, having experienced the strategic blowback from its history of extrajudicial detention, is one of the few countries that views foreign detainees as a pressing concern.  The federal government is faced with poor options to cope with the foreign detainees absent home nations that are willing to repatriate them.  There were indications the Department of Defense attempted to negotiate a transfer of the bulk of the detainees to Iraqi custody.[32]  The Shia-aligned Iraqi government has it’s own substantial image problems among Sunni Arabs due to their history of torture, extrajudicial killings, and force displacement of Sunni enclaves.[33]  This course of action is not much better than leaving the detainees with the Kurds given the government of Iraq’s history of human rights abuses, but transferring custody to a nation-state actor is a small step towards legitimacy and it leaves the door open for extradition proceedings for the detained individuals.  Ultimately, given the timetable for U.S. withdrawal, the Kurds will likely transfer the detainees to the Assad regime and be forced to cede their relative moral high ground in their treatment of detained individuals over the course of the conflict.


David Young is a 1L at the DU Sturm College of Law and a DJILP Staff Editor


[1] Charlie Savage, Fighters Fill Syrian Jails, Nations Fear They’ll Come Home, N.Y. Times, July 18, 2018, at A1.

[2] Id.

[3] Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, art. 3, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3316, 75 U.N.T.S. 135.

[4] Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 Aug. 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, June 8, 1977, 1125 U.N.T.S. 609.

[5] Thomas Winkler, Copenhagen Process and the Copenhagen Process Principles and Guidelines on the Handling of Detainees in International Military Operations: Challenges, Criticism and the Way Ahead, 5 J. Int’l Human. Legal Stud. 258, 288 (2014).

[6] Id.

[7] Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kurdish Aspirations and the Interests of the U.K. (Feb. 9, 2018), https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmfaff/518/51808.htm.

[8] John Irish & Marine Pennetier, France’s Macron vows support for Northern Syrians, Kurdish militia, Reuters (Mar. 29, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-france/frances-macron-vows-support-for-northern-syrians-kurdish-militia-idUSKBN1H52V1.

[9] John Irish, Turkey or Kurdish YPG militia? Pick a side, Turkish minister tells France, Reuters (Apr. 5, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-france-syria/turkey-or-kurdish-ypg-militia-pick-a-side-turkish-minister-tells-france-idUSKCN1HC29Q.

[10] Rodi Said, U.S.-backed Syrian alliance declares attack on Islamic State in Raqqa, Reuters (Nov. 6, 2016), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-raqqa-idUSKBN1310GX.

[11] Ellen Francis, U.S.-backed Syria militias say Tabqa, dam captured from Islamic State, Reuters (May 10, 2017), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-tabqa-idUSKBN1862E4.

[12] Tom Perry, Raqqa to be part of ‘federal Syria’, U.S.-backed militia says, Reuters (Oct. 20, 2017), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-raqqa/raqqa-to-be-part-of-federal-syria-u-s-backed-militia-says-idUSKBN1CP16T.

[13] Savage, supra note 1.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Eric Schmidt, Defeated in Syria, ISIS Fighters Held in Camps Pose Security Risks, N.Y. Times, Jan. 24, 2018 at A1.

[17] See Tamara Qiblawi & Gul Tuysuz, Syria reveals fate of people thrown into ‘slaughterhouse’ jails, CNN (Aug. 30, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/30/middleeast/syria-prisons-death-notices-intl/index.html.

[18] Int’l Crim. Ct. [ICC], Understanding the International Criminal Court, at 13, https://www.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/pids/publications/uicceng.pdf.

[19] Int’l Crim. Ct. [ICC], States Party to the Rome Statute, https://asp.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/asp/states%20parties/pages/the%20states%20parties%20to%20the%20rome%20statute.aspx.

[20] ICC supra note 18, at 4.

[21] Situation in Uganda, ICC-02/04, Jurisdiction, (July, 2004).

[22] ICC supra note 18, at 3.

[23] Stephen Schemenauer, Using the Rule of Law to Combat the Islamic State 11, (U.S. Army War College, 2016).

[24] See Adam Goldman & Eric Schmitt, Last 2 of ISIS’ Infamous British Fighters Are Captured by Syrian Kurds, N.Y. Times, Feb. 8, 2018, at A8.

[25] Greg Myre, Americans In ISIS: Some 300 Tried To Join, 12 Have Returned To U.S., NPR (Feb. 5, 2018), https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/02/05/583407221/americans-in-isis-some-300-tried-to-join-12-have-returned-to-u-s.

[26] Lisa Rose, The US wants to leave this American in Syria with $4,210 and no passport, CNN (June 22, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/22/politics/john-doe-syria-isis-passport/index.html.

[27] Resp’t’s Notice Pursuant to the Ct.’s Jan. 23, 2018 Order, Doe v. Mattis, No. 17-cv-2069 (D.D.C. Apr. 17, 2018).

[28] Int’l Centere for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, Radicalisation, De-Radicalisation, Counter-Radicalisation: A Conceptual Discussion and Literature Review (Mar. 2013), https://www.icct.nl/download/file/ICCT-Schmid-Radicalisation-De-Radicalisation-Counter-Radicalisation-March-2013.pdf.

[29] Savage supra note 1.

[30] Faisal Devji, A life on the surface, Hurst (Sep. 21, 2015), https://www.hurstpublishers.com/a-life-on-the-surface/.

[31] Faisal Devji, ISIS: Haunted by Sovereignty, Spiked Review (Dec. 2015), http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/isis-haunted-by-sovereignty/17680#.W4sK65MzrBJ.

[32] Courtney Cube et al., Trump admin may send captured ISIS fighters to Iraq prison, Guantanamo, NBC (Aug. 30, 2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/trump-admin-may-send-captured-isis-fighters-iraq-prison-guantanamo-n905066.

[33] U.S. State Dep’t, Iraq 2017 Human Rights Report (2017), https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/277487.pdf.

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NEWS April 17: Over 100 Syrian Refugees Dead After Suicide Attack, ECJ Rules on Banning Headscarves, and North Korea Warns of Thermonuclear War

It’s Monday, April 17, 2017, and this is some of what’s happening in International law and policy:

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NEWS April 10: Syrian Allies Say US Crossed Red Lines, ISIS Responsible for Egyptian Church Explosions, and 17 People Killed After Suicide Car Bombing in Somalia

It’s Monday, April 10, 2017, and this is some of what’s happening in International law and policy:


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Photo Credit: Getty Images

The European Refugee Crisis: Unaccompanied Refugee and Migrant Children

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The refugee and migrant influx into Europe continues. Since January 2015 approximately 1.2 million people have journeyed across the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe. The majority arrive in Europe by sea, while almost 34,900 refugees and migrants arrived by land. These individuals are fleeing economic and social breakdown such as conflict, violence, and poverty, with the largest numbers leaving Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The crisis has had a substantial impact on children. UNICEF’s advocacy brief on the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe describes this crisis as a “children’s crisis.” By the end of December 2015, 1 in 3 refugees and migrants in Europe were children. And, based on arrivals in Europe since January 1, 2016, 27% were children.

Especially vulnerable are unaccompanied children. Children are among the most at risk of refugees and migrants – at risk of trafficking, exploitation, abuse, death, rape, and detention, among others. Unaccompanied children are those under the age of 18 years old and travelling alone. In 2015, approximately 25% of child asylum claims were made by unaccompanied and separated minors. However, it is difficult to gather accurate numbers of unaccompanied children because either they are not registering at borders or the country does not allow for their identification in formal registration procedures.

So, what is global community’s responsibility in addressing the issue of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children? According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the protection of unaccompanied children is a state obligation. One response to the problem of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children arriving in Europe was that of the United Kingdom, which passed the Immigration Act 2016, Section 67. The Act specifies that the “Secretary of State must… make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.” It further specifies that the number of children to be resettled will be determined by the government in consultation with local authorities. The Act does not specify a fixed number on arrivals in order to assess the local governments capacity and ability to help. The purpose is to resettle unaccompanied refugee children who have fled conflict in the Middle East and whom it is in their best interest to be transferred to the UK.

Although there are real considerations as to capacity and ability of countries to help unaccompanied refugee children, a greater effort should be made by the global community in collaboration with one another and individually to assist this especially vulnerable population as well as the refugee and migrant population as a whole.

Hannah Mitchell is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Photo Credit: AmnestyUSA

EU-Turkey Agreement: What’s the Deal?

Photo Credit: AmnestyUSA

Photo Credit: AmnestyUSA

On March 8, 2016, the European Union (EU) and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at resolving the migrant crisis, which has grown exponentially over the past several years.

Since the beginning of the conflict, a total of 9 million migrants, have fled war-torn areas such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In search of safety, most of these refugees have found a new home in neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. More than 1 million migrants have relocated to southern Europe, primarily Greece and Italy.

During the September 2015 meeting, EU members pledged to resettle 160,000 refugees in need of immediate protection. However, as of March 15, 2016, only 937 asylum applicants were relocated from Greece and Italy to other EU Member States.

Refugees typically arrive in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat. The journey that the migrants take is incredibly dangerous and has already claimed thousands of lives. Despite the difficulties, an average of 2,000 to 3,000 refugees continue to arrive in Greece every day.

The EU-Turkey deal is an attempt to find a mutual solution to the crisis.

According to the agreement, which came into effect on March 20, 2016, migrants arriving in Greece after March 20, 2016 would be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their application is denied. In exchange for every returned Syrian, one legally registered Syrian refugee from Turkey may be resettled in Europe, and only up to a maximum of 72,000 refugees.  This so called “one-for-one” deal does not extend to illegal migrants. Further still, the agreement does not extend to the non-Syrian refugees who have fled the brutal violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. For these people, the route to Europe is now closed, and if they arrive in Europe illegally, they will be quickly expelled to Turkey.

Under the pact, the EU agreed to allocate €3 billion to Turkey to help finance readmission and resettlement of refugees arriving from Greece. These funds are also intended to help Turkey cope with almost 3 million Syrian refugees currently sheltered within its borders. In addition, by the end of June 2016, the EU has promised to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel within the EU’s Schengen zone. Turkey also asked the EU to reconsider its application to become an EU member state.

Even though the EU and Turkey are taking steps to ensure that the return of refugees and migrants is legal under international law norms, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as many humanitarian organizations, are gravely concerned about the blanket application of the terms of the agreement to all individuals seeking asylum. According to the UNHCR, the terms of the agreement violate the main principles of European and international law. Specifically, refugee advocates argue that international law requires that States assess each refugee case on an individual basis. Put another way, no automatic returns are allowed.

While the details of the agreement continue to be worked out, more than 50, 000 men, women and children remain stranded at the border between Macedonia and Greece awaiting their fate to be handed down by leaders of the EU and Turkey.

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Responsibility to Protect in the Wake of the Paris Attacks

On Friday November 13, 2015, France experienced a sequence of horrific terrorist attacks, for dddwhich the Islamic State claimed responsibility; nonetheless, the attacks have also been linked to Syria. In our reaction to the events on Friday, it is important to remember all of the positive efforts that France has engaged in to aid the persecuted peoples of Syria. In reflecting on the grim events there are two important things to remember: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” The first, is the UN doctrine of humanitarian intervention to protect the welfare of individuals, which France has heavily advocated for throughout the Syrian conflict. The second, is the French national motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” which embodies the French spirit and is reflected in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” It is critical in this time of crisis for France to base its reaction on the foundation these two principles.

Over the last four years, France has advocated for the use of the R2P doctrine, led the investigation into the humanitarian violations of President Bashar al-Assad, and offered protection to about 5,000 Syrian refugees (more than double the number the U.S. has admitted). However, in reaction to Friday’s attacks, President Hollande stated that France will “lead the fight and we will be ruthless.” In this moment of crisis, President Hollande should rather stand steady in France’s position based on humanitarian intervention.

To honor the 129 (and counting) lives lost in the terrorist attacks, France, and the world, should stand by those still suffering from the extreme persecution that is occurring in the Syrian state. Less than a month ago, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, met with other leading nations to discuss a transition in Syria to protect the civilians and “confirm[ed] the commitment of France to go forward with its initiative on a collective code of conduct.” The “code of conduct” to which Minister Fabius referred was R2P. In 2005, the United Nations Member States agreed to the R2P doctrine and it should be with this doctrine that we continue to intervene in Syria. R2P is comprised of three pillars:

  1. The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
  2. The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
  3. The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

The implementation of R2P requires that action be ordained under the provisions of the United Nations Charter, which essentially gives decision-making authority to the Security Council. The implementation of R2P begins when states have failed to meet the needs of their people; then international obligation requires states to prevent and punish genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Conventional and customary international law understands this obligation. However, the R2P is not meant to be a military intervention that threatens sovereignty, rather, it is designed to prevent atrocities, react to the active occurrences of violations, and help rebuild after a crisis has passed. In essence, as Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon put it, the R2P is satisfy “the aspirations of people everywhere for a safer, more secure world for ‘We the peoples.’”

The R2P is, admittedly, only an international norm, carrying with it no obligation under international law. Thus far, implementation of the R2P has been prevented by Security Council vetoes from China and Russia. Dr. Simmon Adams argued in a Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect Occasional Paper Series that each failure of the Security Council to act has increased the level of violence used by President Bashar al-Assad.

The violence used by President Bashar al-Assad has indeed been horrific. In April 2014, the Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations addressed a letter to the Security Council, S/2014/244, which provided testimonial, photographic, and medical evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Included in the letter were graphic images of Syrians who had been detained by the agents of the Syrian government; in viewing the photos, the images are reminiscent of images from the Holocaust. Following this report, France proposed a resolution, backed by 58 countries, to have the Security Council refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Unfortunately, this resolution was vetoed by Russia and China. This veto occurred in spite of France’s previous advocacy that the Security Council members refrain from using their veto power when mass atrocity crimes are at stake.

Nonetheless, in a bold move France began its own investigation of President Bashar al-Assad in September, to hold him accountable for his administration’s human rights violations. This investigation will require that France identifies French nationals among the victims, but France’s continued attempts to hold President Bashar al-Assad accountable are commendable. While this effort may ultimately be unsuccessful, the investigation is giving attention to the 8,871 Syrians being kidnapped, detained, and/or tortured; not to mention the larger number of 200,000, which is how many Syrians have died since the beginning of the conflict. These lives certainly do not diminish the value of the lives lost in France on Friday, but France should be proud of its efforts to help end the Syrian crisis; and should not abandon these efforts.

Currently, there are 4,287,293 registered Syrian refugees. What is important now for France, and the world, is to remember that there are people in Syria who need international humanitarian protection. In light of the inhumanity that we, as a world, have witnessed, we must not be so feeble-hearted as to close our borders to those seeking refuge. France, and all of us, need to take to heart the words of Remi Piet, an assistant professor of international affairs at Qatar University, “any link to the refugees coming from Syria is an error because refugees are the first victims of Daesh [ISIL].” Providing shelter to refugees and acting with integrity, a spirit of protecting our innate humanity, are embodied in the guiding principles of the Responsibility to Protect and “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.”

Alison Haugen is a 3L Sturm College of Law and Graduate School of Social Work dual degree student and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.


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The Migrant Crisis: A Test of European Coherence?

By Alexandra Esmel

Europe is facing one of its largest refugee crisis since the end of the Second Word War. Violent conflicts in the Middle East (mostly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan) and in Sub-Saharan Africa (mostly from Eritrea, Somalia) have generated the flight of thousands of men, women and children from war zones, persecutions and/or extreme poverty. The impact of these conflicts is ever increasing on the civilian’s side hence, the large number of displaced (forced or voluntary) civilians into foreign countries. The wealth of Europe where most members have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention have made it an attractive choice for these persons looking for a safe place to stay. Whether legal or illegal, for economic or humanitarian reasons, migration towards the EU is nothing new, however the numbers of migrants reaching the EU or dying trying is now too high not to make the news.hhh

The right of free movement of the persons within the Schengen is a sacrosanct element of the European Union and raise the crisis to a supranational level. However, as the crisis escalated, the EU has lacked of steadfastness in comparison with its individual members which in turn led to important disparities in the way the crisis is handled.

Italy was the first member of the EU to respond to the humanitarian crisis of migrants with the Operation Mare Nostrum in 2013. Italy carried out its own rescue and search missions from its borders all the way to the coast of Libya.  The operation was unfortunately discontinued after the Italian request for additional funds to other EU Member States remained unsuccessful. Operation Mare Nostrum was then replaced by the EU Frontex mission which contrary to its predecessor only aims at securing the European borders. In 2015 alone, more than 300, 000 persons in distress illegally reached Europe via the Mediterranean Sea in hope of safer and better lives.

Up north, the Western Balkans route (via Turkey; Greece then Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, etc…) is also one the busiest routes to the EU. More importantly, many refugees and economic migrants call upon the services of unscrupulous smugglers who charge them thousands of dollars for a life-threatening trip to their final destination by sea and/or land.

They embark on a very long and very dangerous journey to reach Europe by sea and land, risking everything they have: their lives and that of their families coming along. In August 2015, Austrian authorities made the macabre discovery on a highway of 71 dead corpses of migrants (assumed to be from sub-Saharan Africa) locked in an abandoned truck.  Before that, in 2013, a boat carrying more or less than 500 African migrants sank by the coast of Italy by Lampedusa. An outraging number of 360 persons died and 155 were rescued by the Italian navy. At the time of writing of this article, the humanitarian crisis is intensifying, the UNCHR has called on governments to strengthen rescue operations, provide swift access to asylum procedures for those in need of protection, and offer legal alternatives to dangerous sea crossings. The UN Agency also estimated that 3,500 persons died in 2014 as a result of the crisis.

As it has been demonstrated with Operation Mare Nostrum, leaving one country to deal with the influx of migrants in the hope that it will fade away is a mistake (Italy and now Hungary). By law, every non-EU country person must register in the first European country they set foot in to initiate the appropriate immigration status procedure, may it be that of an asylum seeker or of an economic migrant. Hence, the clogging of small countries of entry to the EU such as Slovenia (2 million inhabitants) or Hungary (10 million inhabitants).

Hungary, the first state in the Schengen zone for migrants traveling via the Western Balkans route, just built a fence on its border with Serbia (not in the Schengen zone) to prevent the arrival of migrants into Hungary and thereby the Schengen zone.

Finally, the Hungarian government unilaterally decided in October 2015 to close its border with Croatia (a candidate to the Schengen area) to migrants albeit “just” being countries of transit for migrants who generally wish to settle further west in Germany or France. On the measure, the Hungarian government’s spokesman stated that “The Hungarian government has taken the steps […] to protect the internal European freedoms and the security of the citizens of Hungary and Europe”.

More alarming, Austria which is a member of the Schengen has now moved to erect a physical border with another member of the Schengen zone: Slovenia. Certainly, it is for the purpose of deterring illegal entry into its territory but inherently it interferes with the EU principle of free movement in the Schengen area. The impossibility to reach Hungary will deviate migrants from Hungary to Slovenia and other neighboring states, the same goes with Austria and Slovenia. Changing the route will not solve the challenge that Europe is facing as a political and economic union. 

In April 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to impose mandatory migrants’ quotas on its Members in order to distribute equally the responsibility inherent with the arrival of migrants. The European Commission stated itself that the migration crisis is not an Austrian crisis. This is not an Italian, French, German or a Greek or a Hungarian crisis. This is a European crisis and it requires a collective European response. France and Germany are in favor of the scheme while others oppose it vigorously. Several Balkans states have denoted their opposition to binding quotas, Slovakia is even considering challenging the decision before the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In May 2015, the European Parliament announced the establishment of an emergency mechanism for relocating migrants, a resettlement scheme to take in migrants from countries outside the EU and more funds for securing borders.  Finally, the Balkan summit of 25th October 2015 resulted in a 17-point plan agreement between Europe and the Balkans states. The plan includes a “deal” still under negotiation with Turkey to help with the flux of migrants in exchange of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and financial support. The implementation of the plan will be monitored by the European Commission on a weekly basis notably regarding the management of borders and of the flow of migrant (exchange of information; coordination with Frontex etc…).

Looking at the future, it is important to realize that this debate should also focus on “immigrants-to-be”: persons wishing to establish their residence in the EU for at least 12 months. The bottom line is that many economic migrants and asylum seekers, legal or illegal, are not simply in transit and actually intend to work, put their children to school and/or to stay in the host country for some time. Once they have reached Europe, they still have to fulfill the conditions for residence or work in the host country.

The arrival of migrants coincides not only with important economic difficulties in the EU but also with the recent rise of far-right parties across the continent. As much as the Grexit drama was an important test for Europe as a financial union, the migrants’ crisis might as well be the test for the defined idea of a European solidarity, identity and union.


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Grading the United Nations at 70 years old

(Denver Post) By Ved Nanda

The euphoria that accompanied the creation of the United Nations in 1945 has long since



given way to frustration and disappointment. Established in the aftermath of the death and destruction of World War II to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” it has succeeded in preventing another global war, but peace still remains illusory.

Armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the Congo, Yemen, and other places attest to this grim reality. And the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocide in Rwanda, and the tragedy of Srebrenica show the international community’s failure to make good on its promise.

Benefiting from the experience of the failed League of Nations, the U.N. founders proclaimed in its charter the main purposes: to maintain international peace and security, to promote and protect human rights, and to effectively address pressing international economic and social issues such as development through international cooperation.

For a fair assessment of the U.N. on its 70th anniversary this fall, we need to look at its record in achieving these goals.

Under the U.N. framework, the Security Council, in which the veto power is wielded by five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — is primarily responsible for peace and security. The founders envisioned that these five members would provide an umbrella of collective security for the world. That is why these became the only countries exclusively authorized to possess nuclear weapons.

But the Cold War quickly intervened. The U.S. and the Soviet Union — then the two superpowers — were embroiled in a prolonged ideological struggle, which led to an era of client states and proxy wars. The outcome was a paralyzed Security Council and stillbirth of the collective security system. This period lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

At that time, there was renewed promise that the five permanent members (P-5) would work together to fulfill the expectations of the Security Council’s role on peace and security, and the first Gulf War showed a glimpse of that possibility. But the window again closed with Russia and the West at loggerheads on several geopolitical issues.

This tussle notwithstanding, the P-5 have found their interests aligned on countering terrorism, piracy, nuclear nonproliferation, on imposing collective sanctions on Iran, and now the Iran nuclear deal. They have also given their blessings to peacekeeping operations, and President Obama is to host a peacekeeping summit in New York in September. But more often, they disagree, such as on Syria.

Because the collective security apparatus did not work, the U.N. instituted peacekeeping as a band-age for trouble spots. From the early days of U.N. peacekeeping between India and Pakistan, these operations have expanded considerably, now in 16 countries with an enhanced mandate to protect civilians.

More than 100,000 personnel from more than 100 countries are engaged. The operation is costly — $8 billion-plus — and there are tremendous challenges. Critics often point to inefficiencies and abuses in the system, which badly needs clearly defined mandates, selection of peacekeepers based on experience and training, an effective oversight process, and well-defined exit strategies. The value of these operations, however, cannot be overstated.

The geopolitical circumstances have shifted the landscape. The 50 original charter signatories have grown to 193. No longer are peace and security issues confined to conflicts between and among states, as non-state actors such as the Islamic State, terrorists, and criminal elements challenge the traditional structure. And mass migration, climate change, environmental degradation, food insecurity, and violent extremism, among other forces, are major global security problems.

More than 50 million people are forcibly displaced today, and given the tragic incidents of hundreds of asylum-seekers drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and thousands on the move in Europe, the international community is undoubtedly failing them. Will the U.N. system, which is already showing its age, be able to deliver on these challenges?

On human rights, the U.N. indeed has undertaken impressive initiatives. Given the vivid demonstration of the Nazi Germany’s atrocities at home and aggression abroad, the founders realized that peace and security and human rights are inextricably intertwined. Accordingly, human rights found a place of honor on the U.N. agenda. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, followed by binding international treaties on civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights, culminated in an “international bill of rights.”

Since then, a number of international agreements have set universal standards for the promotion and protection of the rights of women, children, indigenous peoples, and disabled persons, for example. International agreements on the prohibition of atrocity crimes — genocide and torture, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes — and the creation of an International Criminal Court to hold egregious violators accountable are attempts to end all impunity. And credit for the independence of dozens of former colonial states goes to the U.N.’s decolonization process.

The U.N. World Conferences on Women — especially the 1995 Beijing Conference — set the goals of gender equality, active participation of women in decision-making, reproductive rights, and voluntary family planning. U.N. Women, a U.N. entity, now has a universal mandate to promote the women’s rights agenda.

Impressive international agreements are now in place on a wide range of other issues of human interaction, including the environment, the Earth’s ozone layer, the oceans, trade, outer space, terrorism, disarmament, aviation and shipping. The U.N. specialized agencies are addressing these issues. For example, the World Health Organization leads the global response to pandemics by creating awareness and mobilizing member states’ quick action on these threats.

The U.N. is attempting to shape a livable future on earth through a “sustainable development agenda,” which envisions linkage between economic viability, social development, and environmental aspects. It is an effort to bridge the initial North-South divide under which the developed states focused primarily on environmental protection, and developing countries on development needs. In 2005, the U.N. adopted the Millennium Development Goals, which focused on reducing poverty, hunger and child mortality, ensuring women’s empowerment, and providing clean water. Many of these goals, set to expire at the end of this year, have been largely met, and in September the U.N. will launch the Sustainable Development Goals, to last until 2030. These goals aim at ending poverty and hunger in all their forms everywhere, achieving gender equality, and ensuring access to clean water, sanitation, and affordable, reliable, and modern energy for all.

Indeed, the U.N. has had spectacular successes and monumental failures. It provides this interdependent world a platform where nations can enter into dialogue and negotiate to resolve their conflicts and address pressing challenges. Undoubtedly the organization suffers from a large bureaucracy, mismanagement, and inefficiency. Its governance structure has pointedly come under harsh criticism, a valid concern, indeed.

Currently the expansion of the Security Council is a contentious issue. Among the P-5 there is no representation from Africa or Latin America. The Asia-Pacific region, which comprises 55 percent of the world’s population and 44 percent of its annual income, has just one representative: China. This calls the Security Council’s legitimacy into question, and on Sept. 14 the General Assembly renewed the efforts for reform.

The veto power, which is responsible for the impasse and hence inaction at the Security Council to solve crises such as Syria, should be altered. But the P-5 defend it, and none would be willing to relinquish it. To illustrate, the Russian ambassador to the UK recently called the permanent members’ right to veto, a guarantee of checks and balances. And any alteration of the U.N. governance structure would require two-thirds of the membership of the General Assembly, 129 votes, not an easy task.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term expires at the end of 2016. Jockeying for the job is in full swing. While East Europeans feel that it is their turn and the former president of Slovenia is a strong contender, there is powerful sentiment that the time is ripe for the first woman to take the helm.

There is truth in the cliché that if we did not have a United Nations we would have to invent one. However, while it is accurate that the U.N. can do only what its members will let it do, it must have the capacity to adapt to the changed geopolitical setting and a new economic and social landscape. Crucial questions are how to end red tape and bureaucracy; how to ensure effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms; and how to bring the governance structure in tune with modern-day realities.

Unless they are answered, the U.N.’s capability to effectively address the challenges and crises of the present and future is in question. The United States, which acknowledges the benefits of U.N. membership, must give its full support.

Ved Nanda (vnanda@law.du.edu) is Thompson G. Marsh Professor of Law and director of the Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.


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Syrian refugees living in a camp Credits: © Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Mistaken as Terrorists: How innocent Syrian refugees are prevented from resettling in the US

The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the most horrific this generation has ever seen.

Syrian refugees living in a camp Credits: © Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian refugees living in a camp Credits: © Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

The United States, which has a long history of welcoming refugees into its borders and giving protection to those fleeing from persecution, has yet to put a significant resettlement initiative for Syrian refugees into motion. The United States has resettled 546 Syrian refugees since the crisis began.  UNHCR, on the other hand, hopes to resettle 50,000 Syrian refugees in 2015, and another 50,000 Syrian refugees in 2016 in permanent resettlement placements around the world.  The lack of action on the part of the United States is due, in part, to its strict immigration laws in regards to terrorism.  The Terrorism Related Inadmissibility Grounds (“TRIG”) sweep broadly over many individuals who are not dangerous in any way.  The TRIG statutory language, codified in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) prevents many innocent Syrians from finding a stable and safe living situation.

There are two areas of the INA that stand as a significant obstacle for many Syrian refugees wanting to resettle in the United States. First is the definition of “terrorist activity,” defined in INA §212(a)(3)(B)(iii) as “any activity that is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed.” Because the law defines any military action against a regime as “terrorist activity,” individuals who were once seen as friends of the Untied States are now labeled as terrorists. For Syrians, opposition fighters are labeled as terrorists and are excluded from entering the United States, even though the United States government supports them. In contrast, those who were in Assad’s army, which the United States opposes for its violations of international law, would still be admissible, because the statute only applies to non-state actors.

Second, many Syrians may be found inadmissible due to their insignificant material support to a Tier I or Tier II terrorist organization (designated terrorist organizations by the Secretary of State and Attorney General, respectively). In INA §212(a)(3)(B)(iv)(VI), the giving of material support to a terrorist organization labeled as “terrorist activity.”  DHS, in past oral arguments before the BIA, has stated that they would consider even the most minimal support given to a terrorist organization, like a glass of water or five cents, as material support.  Syrians deemed inadmissible due to their material support of a terrorist organization include a family that sheltered an opposition fighter in their home when their town was being bombed, a young boy who joined the opposition fighters for a short time when his father was killed, eventually leaving the war to join his mother and siblings, and even the man who sold falafel sandwiches to opposition fighters in a war-zone.

In order for the United States to continue its longstanding tradition of welcoming people fleeing from persecution, the TRIG laws need to be changed.  DHS needs to use its discretionary authority and expand the available TRIG waivers. Civilians living in Syria were subject to innocent contact with Tier I and Tier II terrorist organizations on a regular basis; this is the nature of living in a conflict zone.  The armed group that took control over the territory they lived in became their customers in their stores—innocent, insignificant material support is unavoidable.  Additionally, exceptions should be given on a case-by-case basis to former combatants who pass a security background check and are not barred for any other statutory reason, including those who were children at the time they were combatants, or to individuals who did not participate in targeting civilians.

Kitty Robinson is a 2L at the University of Denver and is the incoming Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy  

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Fumio Kishida

Lawsuit challenges Japan’s high standard for refugees

Fumio Kishida

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, right, visits Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, some 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the Syrian border. Credit to: Asian Correspondent. http://cdn.asiancorrespondent.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Mideast-Jordan-Japan_Crav_opt.jpg

In early March, four Syrian men filed a lawsuit against Japan’s Ministry of Justice, challenging the rejection of their refugee applications.  The group arrived in Japan in 2012 and applied for refugee status, citing the potential for persecution for their participation in pro-democracy protests against the Syrian government.  The Ministry rejected their refugee status in early 2013, and instead granted them each a temporary residence permit under a “humanitarian perspective.”  This type of permit allows the men to work full time and to participate in the national health care and other social programs.  But while this seems like a compromise, the permits must be renewed every year, unlike refugee certificates which are permanent; and permit holders are excluded from certain assistance programs such as language training and employment help that the government grants to certified refugees.  Perhaps the greatest disadvantage the lack of refugee status prevents for the Syrians is the difficulty, or near impossibility, it is to get their families into the country.  Their lawsuit seeks to obtain official refugee status and the full rights and protections that it provides.

Japan’s Immigration and Refugee Recognition Act explicitly refers to the 1951 Convention in its definition of “refugee” as well as in the reasons a temporary refuge may be granted at the border.  Further, the Ministry of Justice itself uses the Convention’s definition of a refugee in its guidelines for refugee status.  The Convention defines a refugee as a person who has a “well-founded fear” of persecution.  In practice, the Ministry tends to grant refugee status to those who are in danger of being “personally targeted” by their home government which, according to the lawsuit, is a higher standard than what the Convention requires.

The Convention’s language of having a “well-founded fear” is too vague on its face to offer any sort of guidance, and the term has no further definition anywhere in the Convention.  Instead, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), provides a handbook to “guide government officials, judges, practitioners, as well as UNHCR staff applying the refugee definition.”  In this handbook, the UNHCR considers the term “well-rounded fear” to have both a subjective and objective element.  Subjective in the person’s motivation for seeking the refugee status; and objective in viewing that motivation within the context of their country of origin or what brought about the motivation in the first place.  When considering whether there is a “well-founded fear”, the UNHCR places most of the weight on the subjective element while the objective element provides a context to assess the credibility of the refugee.

With this framework in mind, will the Syrian refugees’ case against the Ministry be successful?  The answer, naturally, depends most notably on the Ministry’s use of “personally persecuted” when determining refugee status.  Assuming that the terms “personally persecuted” mean that the person is being targeted by their home government and will be arrested the moment they step off the plane, it would seem that the Ministry puts more weight on the objective element of having a “well-rounded fear” instead of the subjective element as the UNHCR states.  Indeed, if a requirement for refugee status is to be a target, then this would effectively do away with the term “well-founded fear of persecution” and replace it with “actual persecution.”  Supporting this interpretation are further explanations in the UNHCR handbook.  A refugee’s fear of persecution, according to the handbook, need not be based on their own personal experiences or the fact that they have previously been persecuted.  The fear could be based on persecution of people in a similar situation, or persecution of friends or family.  The UNHCR further considers that “fear” applies both to those who have actually been persecuted and those who wish to avoid being persecuted.  The Ministry’s standard of “personally persecuted” could be found to be incompatible with 1951 Convention and the standards of the UNHCR.

Japan has been a party to the 1951 Convention since 1981 and has given no reservations or declarations to any provision.  As such, the Ministry of Justice should be bound by the provisions in the Convention and it is likely that it has applied a higher standard than is necessary.  If the lawsuit is successful, it will provide hope for the hundreds of refugee seekers who have been denied the status due to Japan’s rigid and restrictive system.

Leonard Large is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and is Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law