Brussels, May 24 (IANS) European Union (EU) prosecutors are increasing cumulating charges, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, against returning foreign terrorists and members of the Islamic State (IS).
Judicial cooperation agency Eurojust announced on Saturday that it will enable longer sentences against individual perpetrators, reports Efe news.
Prosecutors in Germany, France, Hungary, Finland and the Netherlands have several open cases with cumulative charges against suspected returning foreign fighters.
By imposing core international charges, European countries can prosecute their citizens for war crimes, regardless of where they were committed.
Eurojust President Ladislav Hamran said in a statement: “We show the world that we care – not only about European citizens, but about humanity as a whole.
“It is our joint responsibility to bring justice to the countless victims and people affected by armed conflicts.”
Many of the accused were able to return to European countries because they have links through nationality or residency, while others sought to enter the EU as refugees or asylum seekers.
Matevz Pezdirc, head of the Secretariat to the European Genocide Network, said IS and Yabhat al Nusra, a branch of Al Qaeda in Syria, are terrorist organizations but must also be considered parties to armed conflict in Iraq and Syria.
This allows its members to be charged with war crimes, in addition to crimes against humanity and genocide.
These offences, which are classified as core international crimes, increase the possibility of higher sentences and of securing justice for victims.
It also means individuals can be charged not only for terrorism but also other crimes such as slavery, use of child soldiers, murder and human rights violations.
The conflict in IS-occupied territories in northern Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2018 has been well documented by terrorists themselves, offering additional possibilities for sentencing.
This was seen in the so-called “selfie” cases: when photographs and videos published on social media of perpetrators carrying out their crimes was used by the judiciary.
Dutch prosecutor Nicole Vogelenzang said in a video statement that there is already a precedent for after a Dutch citizen who had travelled to Syria in 2014 to join IS and returned to Turkey in 2016, where he was arrested and deported to Holland to stand trial.
Investigators found a photograph of him on Facebook in which the 24-year-old was posing next to a dead body.
Prosecutors were able to use the image to find out where in Syria the photograph had been taken and they were able to find the original execution video which had been carried out by IS.
“Because we found the execution video we knew it was IS who executed the man – and more importantly we could establish that the suspect was not involved in the execution itself,” Vogelenzang said.
“By having his picture taken next to the dead body and by distributing the photo via Facebook, the suspect violated the personal dignity of the deceased man, which resulted in a war crime of degrading and inhuman treatment.”
The suspect, who has since launched an appeal, was sentenced to a total of nine years in prison, two and a half years for the war crime and six and a half years for a terror offence, she added.
Eurojust said cumulative trials, which encompass a more comprehensive range of criminal charges against individual defendants, allow for longer penalties and fill the gap left by the absence of an international tribunal to prosecute atrocities committed by IS.