Fighters to Syria

The Dutch have started a trial against an Iraqi citizen who has been living in the Netherlands for 13 years. Now he is joining the rebels to fight in Syria. In this case the trial seems to be focussing on the mental health status of the individual.

It is an interesting view. In this case it is about people who will become militant, more extreme and the fear is that these people might return to the Netherlands in a more militant and extreme state with additional fear that these events might start a wave of extreme actions.

There is a case that seems to hold water, yet will it hold water in a legal way?

1. The person has not yet left the Netherlands and as such the issues are not proven (at present).
2. If we look back to WW2, Americans moved to the UK to fight against Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Is this a similar view?

In the second case there are additional issues. These people are joining the fight against Assad. This is an internal civil war. In the WW2 case England was under direct attack by Germany. So there were other issues in play. In addition, these people all joined military fighting units that were part of a sovereign state. That is not the case with the Syrian rebels.

The issue that does not seem to be (overly) illustrated by the news at present, is that in this specific case (in case of Syria) that no matter how good the goal, these people are joining a non-aligned, combatant army. It could be seen as a group of people that are joining a terrorist organisation (from the viewpoint of Syrian government). There is supporting evidence in this case to some extent.

If we consider Humanitarian Law, then we must also accept the laws of war, which limits attacks to “military objectives.” Military objectives are personnel and objects that are making an effective contribution to military action and whose destruction, capture, or neutralization offers a definite military advantage. There is ample evidence that civilian targets have been fired upon. When we take that into consideration, then a government has a clear directive to stop this. It could send its own army to police and structure the events, yet, they cannot engage in war on targets that are prohibited by Humanitarian law. From that point, not only must these recruitment drives be stopped, they also have some level of evidence that recruiting for these tasks should be seen as criminal.

I must keep a little space for the chance that my information is not complete, or even worse, is to some degree incorrect (newscasts from all over the world tend to lower reliability a little). The spreader of the information that we see on the news might not be completely correct, or from a reliable source (not claiming that this is the case, but I must allow for this fact to be the case).

If we consider that then the statements of both David Cameron and William Hague are more than just dangerous. I am referring to a batch of statements that these two honourable gentlemen have made over the last 2-3 months. In that light, it is the statement by the Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson that seems to be the correct one. (He stated “Britain could not end the conflict by ‘pressing weapons into the hands of maniacs.’“) Even though Humanitarian Law does not speak on the delivery of weapons, the fact that it is known that their weapons are used in transgression of Humanitarian law, even before these weapons had been delivered could bite any nation that delivers these weapons down the road.

The transgressions that are currently allegedly occurring are not from some obscure part of the Customary International Humanitarian Law. No, we are only at rule 1 when we find the collision with the occurring transgressions. So by allowing and not outspoken opposition of these transgressions, we are not giving support to regime of Assad, we are actually flushing our own standards down the drain. If the convoy that was attacked last week by the rebels contained goods as well as people then there is also the transgression of rule 55 of humanitarian law. Furthermore, there is every chance that these foreign supporters, as not being a national from Syria, could be seen, if arrested, as a spy, a mercenary or a terrorist by Syria’s sovereign ruling party. That would complicate matters in several ways and its unlikely that the end solution that the Syrian courts would offer is one that the supporter will be able to live with (like the firing squad).

Whatever choices the UK makes, they should be clear and outspoken on the transgressions of humanitarian law. The Dutch face a similar act to follow. In regard to the court case, it seems to me that in the British Nationality Act 1981 in section 40 it states:

The Secretary of State –
(a) shall not deprive a person of British citizenship under this section unless he is satisfied that it is not conducive to the public good that that person should continue to be a British citizen

This means that, even though it is decently bad Humanitarian law, that if the Secretary of state can place the fact that militants returning to the UK are not in the interest of Public good, they would lose their UK passport before they even make it past UK customs at the airport. The Dutch are less lenient here. In their case you would only lose your nationality is you are convicted for a crime against the Dutch state. It would be very conceivable that the transgressions of Humanitarian law would constitute enough transgression at this point. That part is not yet a given as the current case in the Netherlands is the first one of its kind ever in Europe.


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