French nationals who travelled to Syria to join Daesh could be tried by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), France’s Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said last week, signalling a de facto recognition of the autonomous Kurdish region, according to Kurdistan24 news agency.
Speaking to Radio RMC on Thursday, Belloubet said local authorities in Syrian Kurdistan could “eventually proceed to trials,” as long as French nationals accused were given access to a lawyer.
Whilst Belloubet clarified that France did recognise the Kurdish controlled province of Rojava as an independent state, her comments appeared to recognise the authority of SDF in the region.
Her statement echoed the comments of Benjamin Giveaux, a spokesperson for French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day “[If] in Syrian Kurdistan, there are judicial institutions that are able to ensure a fair trial with guaranteed rights of defence, they will be judged there.”
The US-backed SDF, that is largely made up of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a militant offshoot of designated terrorist organisation the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The group has repeatedly announced its intention to maintain control of the territories won in Syria and establish an autonomous Kurdish state governed by federalism.
The Syrian regime and Turkey have been vocal in their opposition to any potential Kurdish state, whilst the US has continued to fund the SDF without committing to Kurdish sovereignty. Russia however has appeared to give some support for the idea, meeting with Kurdish fighters in the northern province of Afrin.
France has maintained amiable relations with the Kurds in the region since the end of the country’s colonial mandate. It has also joined the US in backing the SDF in the battle against Daesh since 2016.
The justice minister’s comments were made amid the arrest of Emilie König, a Frenchwoman suspected of recruiting fighters for Daesh last week. Currently held by the SDF, the 33 year-old has accused the Kurdish group of torture and requested her repatriation to France.
“We will take care of all the people who will come back on the French territory. However, we will not necessarily look for them where they are,” said Belloubet in a response to Konig’s plea, denying her request to be returned to her home country.
Last month, the UK government was also accused of being “completely obstructive” by the parents of Briton Jack Letts, who was captured by the SDF in May. The couple complained that the Foreign Office who have done nothing to aid the return of their son, who is suspected of travelling to Syria to join Daesh in 2014. Lett’s parents have also expressed concerns about his welfare in his prison and say that he has serious mental health issues.
The SDF has been accused of numerous human rights violations in Iraq and Syria, including revenge attacks against civilians in former Daesh territories. Amnesty International is one of several NGOs that have recorded the SDF committing war crimes including displacing residents, razing homes, torture and extrajudicial killings.