Germany and North Macedonia: UN expert welcomes efforts to repatriate, reintegrate and prosecute nationals returning from Syria and Iraq
13 July 2023
"Countries such as Germany and North Macedonia have shown that repatriation is both practical and possible,” said Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, at the end of a 10-day visit to Germany and North Macedonia.
GENEVA (13 July 2023) – A UN expert today welcomed the substantial efforts made by Germany and North Macedonia to address the complex situation of their citizens returning from conflict zones, in particular the Syrian Arab Republic, through repatriation, reintegration and prosecution.
“Countries such as Germany and North Macedonia have shown that repatriation is both practical and possible,” said Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, at the end of a 10-day visit to Germany and North Macedonia.
Ní Aoláin highlighted the dire conditions of mass arbitrary detention in the camps and prisons of North-East Syria, stressing the particularly heinous consequences for vulnerable children who remain detained without access to education, health care, security and other fundamental rights.
“I welcome Germany’s efforts to promote a vibrant and expert civil society engagement in disengagement, deradicalization and reintegration processes, demonstrating the importance of a ‘whole of society’ approach to return and providing a route to human rights compliant, holistic and non-stigmatising reintegration into society,” she said.
The Special Rapporteur noted that North Macedonia has started to develop a model of community-based reintegration based on multidisciplinary expertise, involving social workers, clinical psychologists and security actors, to meaningfully reintegrate families, especially women and children, into their communities.
The expert underlined the importance of prosecutions in accordance with the rule of law for the devastating international crimes committed by ISIL in Syria and Iraq. She welcomed the innovative and unique approach taken by Germany to address core international crimes and the country's apparent willingness to close the immense impunity gap for crimes committed by ISIL.
“I expressly call for the repatriation of men and women from both Germany and North Macedonia to ensure that the return and accountability efforts continue,” she said.
Ní Aoláin said that both countries must continue to be vigilant to ensure that countering violent extremism policies and practices related to return and reintegration are truly human rights compliant. She expressed concern that some reintegration efforts may, in practice, create rather than prevent stigma and exclusion.
“The prosecution and trial of returnees must meet international standards of due process and fairness, sentences must be proportionate and prison conditions must be adequate to ensure that returnees have an equal opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration into society,” the UN expert said.
The Special Rapporteur welcomed the proactive approach of both Governments to this challenging legal and political issue, which provides a valuable example to other States on how to facilitate the return and reintegration of their citizens from conflict zones, including Syria.
Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism by the United Nations Human Rights Council. She took up her functions on 1 August 2017. Ms. Ní Aoláin is concurrently Regents Professor and Robina Professor of Law, Public Policy and Society at the University of Minnesota Law School and Professor of Law at the Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her mandate covers all countries and has most recently been renewed by Human Rights Council resolution 49/10.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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