Syria’s Kurds call for international court to try Daesh militants

The SDF released a statement with the remarks. (AFP/File)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Syria’s Kurds call for international court to try Daesh militants

  • SDF said this is a way to organize fair and just tribunals
  • The group said they do not have the capability to hold the detainees

AIN ISSA, Syria: Syria’s Kurds on Monday called for an international court to be set up in the country to try suspected Daesh militants following the announced fall of their “caliphate.”
Daesh imposed its brutal interpretation of Islam on millions living in the proto-state that it declared across a large swathe of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.
The extremists stand accused of carrying out numerous crimes including mass executions, kidnappings and rape.
“We call on the international community to establish a special international tribunal in northeast Syria to prosecute terrorists,” the Syria Kurdish administration said.
In this way, “trials can be conducted fairly and in accordance with international law and human rights covenants and charters,” it said in a statement.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday announced the end of the “caliphate” after defeating Daesh militants in the eastern village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
Kurdish-led forces, backed by a US-led coalition, have detained thousands of suspected Daesh fighters in more than four years battling the militants, including around 1,000 foreigners.
While alleged Daesh fighters are held in jail, women and children suspected of being affiliated to the group are housed in Kurdish-run camps for the displaced.
More than 9,000 foreigners, including over 6,500 children, were held in the main camp of Al-Hol, a Kurdish spokesman said, giving the latest figures from a week ago.
The Kurdish administration has repeatedly called for the repatriation of foreign Daesh suspects, and warned it does not have capacity to detain so many people.
But the home countries of suspected Daesh members have been reluctant to take them back, due to potential security risks and a likely public backlash.
“The Kurdish administration in northeast Syria has appealed to the international community to shoulder its responsibilities” with regards to Daesh suspects, it said Monday.
“But unfortunately there was no response.”
It urged the international community, particularly countries that have nationals detained, to support the establishment of an international tribunal.
A top foreign official for the Kurdish administration said foreign experts could work side by side with local judges.
“They could be foreign judges working with local judges and be experts in crimes committed by terrorist groups,” Abdel Karim Omar told AFP.
Previous international courts include the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which tried genocide perpetrators in the African country.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia meanwhile tried those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in conflicts that tore apart the Balkans in the 1990s.
Joel Hubrecht, a Paris-based expert in transitional justice expert, said setting up an special tribunal to judge Daesh was a good idea in theory in view of the international dimension of its alleged crimes.
“The idea of an international criminal court is relevant and interesting,” he told AFP.
“But in northeast Syria it’s not realistic.”
The Syrian Kurdish authorities are not internationally recognized, setting up such a tribunal usually takes time, and ensuring witness protection is tough in a war-torn country, he said.
Despite the declared victory against Daesh in Baghouz, the militants still maintain a presence in the country’s vast desert and have continued to claim deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.
President Bashar Assad’s forces have made a territorial comeback against rebels and militants with key Russian backing since 2015, but the war is far from over.
The battle to end the “caliphate” has triggered an exodus of tens of thousands of people — mainly women and children — out of crumbling Daesh territory, sparked a humanitarian crisis.
The main camp in Al-Hol is now bursting at the seams, housing more than 70,000 people — in a place designed for just 20,000.
“Humanitarian conditions in Hol camp are extremely critical,” World Food Programme spokeswoman Marwa Awad said Monday.
At least 140 people — overwhelmingly young children — have died on the way to the camp or shortly after arriving, the International Rescue Committee aid group says.
The Kurdish administration on Monday called on the United Nations to improve living conditions at the Al-Hol camp.
It particularly called for more humanitarian assistance, expanding the camp, and better water and sewage networks.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Apart from fighting Daesh, the Kurds have largely stayed out of the civil war, instead setting up their own semi-autonomous institutions in the northeast of the country.


‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

Updated 56 min 42 sec ago
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‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

  • Unscrupulous construction contractors illegally stripping beaches of sand
  • Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP

MOHAMMEDIA: Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco’s insatiable construction contractors.

Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses “sand mafias” of destroying Morocco’s beaches and over-urbanizing its coastline.

“The dunes have disappeared along the entire city’s coastline,” lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection.

“At this rate, we’ll soon only have rocks” left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group.

More than half the sand consumed each year by Morocco’s construction industry — some 10 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) — is extracted illegally, according to UNEP.

“The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season,” said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront.

“But they do it less often now because the area is full of people. In any case, there is nothing more to take,” added the affable forty-something.

Sand accounts for four-fifths of the makeup of concrete and — after water — is the world’s second most consumed resource.

Exploitation

Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

In Morocco, “sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure,” according to UNEP. Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

“Continued construction is likely to lead to... destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors — beaches themselves,” the report warned.

Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison.

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

FASTFACT

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

“On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared” in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers. “There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects,” he said.

To the south, the UNEP report noted, “sand smugglers have transformed a large beach into a rocky landscape” between Safi and Essaouira. Activist Jawad points to “small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia.”

But “then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organized networks, operating with the complicity of some officials.”

While the sand mafias operate as smugglers, “key personalities — lawmakers or retired soldiers — hand out permits allowing them to over-exploit deposits, without respect for quotas,” he added.

A licensed sand dredger spoke of “a very organized mafia that pays no taxes” selling sand that is “neither washed nor desalinated,” and falls short of basic building regulations.

These mafia outfits have “protection at all levels... they pay nothing at all because they do everything in cash,” this operator added, on condition of anonymity.

“A lot of money is laundered through this trade.”

A simple smartphone helps visualize the extent of the disaster.

Via a Google Earth map, activist Adnane showed a razed coastal forest, where dunes have given way to a lunar landscape, some 200 km south of Casablanca.

Eyes fixed on the screen, he carefully scrutinized each parcel of land.

“Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometers. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take,” he alleged.

Adnane pointed to another area — exploited, he said, by a politician who had a permit for “an area of two hectares.”

But instead, he “took kilometers” of sand.

Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference.

Asked by AFP about measures to fight uncontrolled sand extraction, secretary of state for energy Nezha El Ouafi pointed to “a national coastal protection plan (that) is in the process of being validated.”

The plan promises “evaluation mechanisms, with protection programs and (a) high status,” she said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the “head in the sand approach” over the scale of coastal devastation.