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An Iraqi court has sentenced a fourth French citizen to the death for involvement with ISIL despite France’s disapproval. Al Jazeera reports taht the 37-year-old French man and three others were sentenced to death by hanging after being apprehended by the Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF) and given over to the Iraqi authorities.
In response to the ruling, the French foreign ministry released a statement citing that although it respected the authority of the Iraqi court, the country remains unequivocal in its opposition to capital punishment, asserting that “France is opposed in principle to the penalty at all times and in all places.” Human rights groups have also come out to oppose the ruling. Nadim Houry, director of the Human Rights Watch’s terrorism and counterterrorism program, told Al Jazeera, “There are few rights for the defense and grave due-process issues – that’s deeply worrying, especially when combined with the death penalty [and] in-depth investigations are not being carried out.” Houry also voiced concerns over the use of torture in Iraqi prisons to coerce confessions.
Unfortunately, the rulings are in line with Iraqi law which allows judges to administer capital punishment for membership in a terrorist organization -even without any proof of direct involvement in any violence. This grants the Iraqi government the right to sentence former ISIL fighters to death without the presumption of innocence nor proof of crimes committed. Radio station, NPR reports that several defendants have claimed they were tortured to elicit a confession while others claimed they had joined ISIL looking for an improved quality of life free and had never engaged in violence. However, the Iraqi court rulings leave no room for second chances or rehabilitation.
The Guardian reports that France has refused to repatriate French citizens captured in Iraq or Syria despite putting them at risk of facing the death penalty, believing that they should be prosecuted in the region where the crime was committed for the sake of witnesses and evidence collection. A report by Amnesty International found that the number of death sentences handed out in Iraq quadrupled between 2017 and 2019, despite a worldwide decline. So far, no ISIL fighters have been executed in the country, although Iraq has offered to try all foreign fighters held by the SDF. BBC reports that as many as 1,000 fighters may be in the SDF’s custody, with several hundred already transferred to Iraq to stand trial
The Organization for World People urges France to refrain from taking an idle position while its citizens are sentenced to death under a legal system which fails to guarantee a free and fair trial. By outsourcing the prosecution of former members of terrorist organizations, France subjects its citizens to torture and an abusive justice system.
France and other European countries must step up in the role to rehabilitate ex-ISIL fighters rather than prolonging violence and subjecting them to further human rights abuses. We urge France to act quickly and decisively as five more Frenchmen are expected to stand trial in Iraq this month.