British citizens fighting with Daesh abroad should be hunted down and killed, insisted the UK defence secretary during an interview with the Daily Mail yesterday. However remarks by Gavin Williamson have come under strong criticism from terrorist watchdogs and human rights group who have accused the minster of advocating "war crimes".
The newly appointed minister said that not a single British citizen who has fought for Daesh should be allowed back into the UK. "Quite simply, my view is a dead terrorist can't cause any harm to Britain," he said to the Daily Mail. "I do not believe that any terrorist, whether they come from this country or any other, should ever be allowed back into this country," Williamson added.
He suggested that there was a deliberate attempt to target British jihadi fighters and ensure they never returned to the UK. It's believed that there are more than 800 UK citizens who have gone to fight for Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Around half of them have already returned, and around 130 have been killed, leaving an estimated 270 left.
His remarks raise further questions about the legality and effectiveness of UK's stance towards returning fighters. Terrorist watchdogs have warned against the use of extreme draconian measures against returning fighters. A report by the UN Centre for Counter-Terrorism (UNCCT), which looks at the growing phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) in Syria, found that there are many complex reasons for people joining radical extremists groups and to treat all returning fighters in the same way was counterproductive.
Max Hill QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation warned of the danger of "losing a generation". Hill, who had been misrepresented by the British press as the lawyer who objected to returning fighters being prosecuted, told MEMO that "criminal prosecution will be inevitable in most cases where UK citizens return from Syria or Iraq, and where there is evidence that they have committed serious criminal offences".
Hill believes that the UK government should adopt "various legal mechanisms" including "deprivation of citizenship for dual nationals, Temporary Exclusion Orders, the use of Schedule 7 port stop powers, the application of TPIMs in cases where there is intelligence but not evidence, and the use of prosecution in our criminal courts in every case where there is evidence of the commission of serious offences by British citizens whilst abroad."
Others have accused Williamson of "playing to the gallery". In a statement to MEMO, Amnesty International UK's Director, Kate Allen, said: "Gavin Williamson's 'tough' talk will probably play well to the gallery, but it's disturbing that the Defence Secretary should talk in this loose and gung-ho fashion."
According to Allen:
Deliberately killing fighters who've surrendered or who've been captured or incapacitated is absolutely prohibited. It violates the laws of war as well as international human rights law, and is a war crime
"Everyone's well aware that the Islamic State armed group have committed truly appalling crimes – including summary killings, and industrial-scale kidnap and rape – but that doesn't mean the UK should act outside the law in places like Syria and Iraq," Allen insisted.
"There will be those who are engaging in hostilities who have made themselves legitimate targets," continued Allen, "but indiscriminately labelling someone a 'terrorist' and then summarily killing that person with a UK drone strike isn't justice at all."
"In many cases," concluded Allen, "it will be far from clear if a targeted person is actually participating in hostilities in an armed conflict at all, and in these cases lethal force should only be used if it's strictly unavoidable to protect against an imminent threat to life."