The UK and the US have been named and "shamed" along with 57 other countries including China and France for not repatriating their citizens – women and children associated with Daesh fighters – held in camps in north-east Syria in "sub-human" conditions without legal process.
Speaking of the nearly 10,000 foreign citizens held in camps, the UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ni Aolain said that under international law, these states have a duty to repatriate their citizens and, if there is evidence, to prosecute adults for war crimes or other offences at fair trials in their domestic courts.
Some 9,462 foreign women and children are among more than 64,600 people detained at Al-Hawl and Roj camps, run by Syrian Kurdish authorities, where the majority of residents are Iraqi and Syrian nationals.
"The matter is one of extreme urgency," Ni Aolain told a news briefing according to Reuters after the independent experts issued a joint statement. She called the list of 57 countries – which include Britain, China, France, the Russian Federation, and the United States – a "list of shame". She also decried "an uptick in nationality stripping", noting it was unlawful to leave someone stateless.
"These women and children are living in what can only be described as horrific and sub-human conditions… The conditions in these camps may reach the threshold of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law," Ni Aolain said. She described how some had been "groomed online" as brides of Daesh fighters and argued that children "had no say in what brought them there."
Last month the UN said that it had received reports of 12 Syrians and Iraqi nationals being murdered in the first half of January at Al-Hawl camp, which holds internal refugees and families of Daesh militants.
According to Ni Aolain, Canada, Finland and Kazakhstan have repatriated some nationals but added that this was "the trickle of returns." She compared the "illegal detention" to that of security suspects held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay for years without charge.
"These women and children are a convenient battering ram on all the fears of state and the public. They are made objects of hate, ridicule, and shame," she said.
Last month France repatriated seven children of Daesh fighters from north-east Syria. It was the latest effort by a European country to return its nationals following years of reluctance to do so.
In a famous case involving a UK citizen Shamima Begum, a woman who joined Daesh in 2015 as a teenager, won her appeal to be allowed to return to the UK. During her time in a Syrian refugee camp, while unable to return to the UK, Shamima's newborn son died, he was the third of her children to die since she arrived in the war-torn country in 2015.