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Switzerland struggling to bring Swiss IS fighters in Syria before its courts

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Switzerland struggling to bring Swiss IS fighters in Syria before its courts
Alleged foreign IS fighters await their sentence at a court in Baghdad, Iraq, in April 2018. Photo: Ammar Karim/AFP.
12:50 CEST+02:00
At least four Swiss citizens said to be IS followers are imprisoned by Kurdish troops in Syria, including a mother and her young child. But how can Switzerland demand the extradition of its citizens from a government it doesn't recognize?

The office of Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber has laid charges against the four Swiss citizens, who allegedly travelled to Syria to join IS forces. One case concerns Selina S (not real name) and her young child, who have been in a Kurdish internment camp in northeast Syria since January 2018.

The problem is how to bring the Swiss citizens back to their domestic justice system. Switzerland does not offer consular services in Syria, and besides, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) advises against all travel to Syria – and therefore does not offer consular support to any of its citizens in the war-torn country, according to a report by Swiss national broadcaster SRF. 

Because Switzerland does not recognize Kurdistan as a state, any negotiations with the Kurdish government would be interpreted as the first signs of international recognition, according to Paul Widmer, a former Swiss diplomat. 

In September 2017, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) held an independence referendum, in which more than 93 per cent of voters cast ballots in favour of independence. The KRG did not however go on to make a declaration of independence and the international community is reluctant to recognize the Kurds' own state for fear of stoking ethnic tensions in northern Iraq. The KRG also controls swathes of territory in northeast Syria.  

Kurdish authorities are keen for foreign IS fighters to return to their countries of origin. "The IS followers are a big problem for us, most of them are criminals," Kurdish Foreign Affairs Commissioner Abdul-Karim Omar told SRF's '10vor10' news bulletin. "And the kids need therapy after all they've gone through."

Omar confirms that they are negotiating with several states, including Canada. But not Switzerland.

The only way for the FDFA to extradite the charged Swiss fighters would be an informal dialogue with the Kurdish government behind the scenes. SRF claims that such talks are underway, although it could not confirm this with government sources. 

READ MORE: Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State

 

 

 

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