THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands said the Dutch government should work with the Trump administration to bring Islamic State fighters back to their home country instead of holding trials in Iraq.
Ambassador Pete Hoekstra told the Dutch national newspaper the NRC on Monday that the plan to prosecute Dutch Islamic State fighters in Iraq is “hopeless.” He wants the Dutch government to repatriate the fighters and try them in Dutch courts, something he says the U.S. government is willing to assist with.
A 2016 Europol report found that around 4,000 European citizens have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Around 300 of them are Dutch.
The Dutch have steadfastly refused to bring fighters home due to security concerns. “The Netherlands is not taking back any IS fighters,” Stef Blok, the Dutch minister of foreign affairs, told European leaders in July.
Last month, Blok met with his Iraqi counterpart during the U.N. General Assembly meeting to discuss the possibility of trying Dutch IS fighters in Iraq.
”The Netherlands supports the trial of IS crimes in the region and does not want to bring IS fighters to the Netherlands,” Blok said after the meeting.
Hoekstra claims that the current cease-fire agreement between the U.S. and Turkey in the Kurdish region of Syria may be the last opportunity to evacuate fighters who are being detained in the region. That agreement ends Tuesday and there have been multiple reports of violence in violation of it.
The U.S. ambassador said the Dutch fighters could pose a security threat if they remain in Syria and Iraq.
The legal options are tricky. Neither Syria nor Iraq recognizes the International Criminal Court, the global court for atrocity crimes, so that avenue is unavailable. Trying Dutch citizens in Iraq has raised questions about the fairness of the judicial system. Further, Iraq still uses the death penalty, which the Dutch strongly oppose.
The Dutch have discussed establishing an ad hoc tribunal, similar to those used following the Bosnian War and the Rwandan genocide. Both of those tribunals were established by the United Nations and similar resolutions focusing on the Islamic State have been blocked by Russia, which has close ties to the Syrian government.
Trying Dutch citizens in the Netherlands for crimes they have committed abroad is also difficult. Evidence is abroad, and in the case of IS fighters, in a war zone. Further, criminality can vary between nations.
The Dutch government says it will arrest any IS fighter who returns home. Earlier this year, a court in the Netherlands convicted two men who fought in Syria of being members of a terrorist group. But those sentences carry penalties of less than eight years in prison. Longer sentences would require more substantial charges.
Legislation that recently passed the lower house of parliament would also make it illegal to be present in so-called terror areas without permission from the government. Journalists and aid workers have complained the law would make it impossible to work in the region.