Press Release: Enabling the Safe Return of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) and Associated Family Members from Northeast Syria – UNGA 78

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard R. Verma, United States, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, Republic of Iraq, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Ted Chaiban, and other distinguished experts and government representatives will highlight the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis in the detention facilities and at al-Hol and Roj displaced persons camps in northeast Syria.

This United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78) side event is hosted by the United States Department of State, in partnership with the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ)

Westin Grand Central Hotel on September 20, 3:30 pm

Open press and on the record remarks 3:30-4:15pm

Limited seats and pooling available for Press

Zoom Webinar also available:

New York, NY, USA: The side event will address the important security and humanitarian implications of ISIS detention facilities and al-Hol and Roj displaced persons camps from those displaced after the 2019 territorial defeat of ISIS in northeast Syria. Countries will discuss solutions to the challenges to repatriation and returns, as well as rehabilitation, reintegration, and where applicable, prosecution.

Some quotes:

At the June Defeat-ISIS Coalition Ministerial in Riyadh, Secretary Blinken underscored that the status quo in northeast Syria is “unsustainable” and urged countries to take a more active role in addressing the dire humanitarian, human rights, and security conditions in al-Hol and Roj camps and SDF detention centers through repatriations and stabilization support in communities of return.

 Blinken: Islamic State Fight ‘Not Yet Done’ (

In a fireside chat in April, Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State Ian Moss highlighted the security concerns of the detained fighters: “Ten thousand ISIS fighters remain in custody there, which is the largest concentration of detained terrorists anywhere in the world.  ISIS continues to look for new opportunities to replenish its ranks by trying to free these detained fighters.  If they escape, they will pose a threat not only to northeast Syria and the region but to our homelands.”

Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ian Moss Fireside Chat with Matthew Levitt | StateNewswire (

After her six-day visit to northeast Syria, UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights Fionnuala D.Ní Aoláin said, “We cannot hold 10,000 people in a box where no one sees what happens to them and their children, it is fundamentally unacceptable by any measure of a civilised and humane treatment of persons in a condition of detention.

Children forcibly separated from mothers at Syria’s Al Hol, warns top rights expert | UN News

“It is crucial to enhance mutual understanding of the challenges associated with prosecuting repatriated nationals from northeast Syria. Further international dialogue can help provide opportunities to learn from countries that have successfully prosecuted nationals they have repatriated, giving those considering repatriation and those continuing to repatriate nationals the tools and contacts they need to do so successfully.”

The IIJ Executive Secretary, Steven Hill, following the last FTF Event organized by the IIJ in Malta, May 2023.

Additional Material For Press:

Between 2011 and 2019, tens of thousands of people left more than 60 countries to fight for the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Today, approximately 2,000 ISIS foreign fighters remain in detention facilities operated by the non-state Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria. The situation presents significant national security and humanitarian concerns that threaten regional and global security.

The United States seeks to mitigate threats posed by detained ISIS fighters to prevent an ISIS resurgence.  To date, the United States has facilitated dozens of repatriation operations of detained fighters and associated family members from northeast Syria (NES) to their countries of origin and provided technical advice and assistance to many countries investigating, prosecuting, incarcerating, rehabilitating, and reintegrating their nationals.  

At the al–Hol camp, roughly 50% of residents are under 12 years of age.  Unless action is taken, they will continue to suffer hardship.  Displaced persons, particularly children, require basic life support services and advanced psychosocial support, which cannot be effectively provided in NES.

The situation in NES presents severe humanitarian and local, regional, and international security concerns. Conditions in the camps limit the provision of humanitarian aid and political dynamics in northeast Syria make it challenging for countries to visit and to repatriate their nationals.  The United States supports efforts to encourage and facilitate repatriations of fighters and associated family members from NES. The United States’ position is that repatriations are the most durable solution to the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis in NES and encourages countries of origin to repatriate, rehabilitate, reintegrate, and prosecute where appropriate, FTFs and associated family members.

Rehabilitating and reintegrating those who return to their countries of origin from Syria – whether or not they serve prison time – is vital to addressing the cycles of violence and radicalization to violence by ISIS.   From Morocco to Indonesia, the United States supports programs that reduce the likelihood that people who return from northeast Syria will continue to support terrorism.  The United States also lends its expertise to interested countries of origin in the development of good practices for effective rehabilitation and reintegration of FTFs and associated family members.  The United States supports the inclusion of language in counterterrorism-related UN resolutions that recognize the need for UN Member States to develop effective strategies to deal with returnees. 

The risk of an ISIS resurgence in NES far outweighs the risks posed by FTFs and associated family members once repatriated.   Recognizing this, the United States will continue to offer support to countries of origin to effectively manage their repatriation efforts. As Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ian Moss said, “We cannot ignore our way out of this problem.  We must continue to leverage our counterterrorism cooperation to repatriate the remaining foreign fighters while also mitigating the risks.” 

One of the IIJ’s main initiatives is The Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters (RFTFs) Initiative, which works with policy-makers and practitioners at the local and national levels to adopt and implement coherent policies that foster an inter-agency approach to the rehabilitation and reintegration of terrorist fighters. The initiative helps implement the GCTF’s “Hague-Marrakech Memorandum on Good Practices for a More Effective Response to the FTF Phenomenon,” as well as UN Security Council Resolution 2178.

Although launched in 2015 to focus on FTFs, those combatants who came from other countries to fight, the project pivoted in response to the evolution of the global threat, shifting to focus on returning FTFs, or those fighters who returned from conflict zones to their home countries. Under this Initiative, with support from the Government of the Netherlands, the IIJ spearheaded an important multi-phased program to assist the Governments of Chad and Mali in adapting the Hague-Marrakech Memorandum to their national security contexts. Other projects under this Initiative have supported actions in relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and implementation of the GCTF’s “Good Practices on Addressing the Challenge of Returning Families of Foreign Terrorist Fighters.” The IIJ concluded its work with Chad and Mali and remains committed to assisting both countries in their efforts to include rehabilitation and reintegration programs for terrorist fighters in their national CVE strategies.

Visual identity:

Press Contacts:

Ali Khair

Communication and Outreach Manager, IIJ:

Parvina Abduvohobova

Programme Manager, IIJ:

Remarks on the Integrated Border Stability Mechanism for West Africa (ISBM)

Steven Hill
Executive Secretary
International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law

I would like to thank UNODC, UNOCT, IOM and Germany for inviting me to take part in this important discussion regarding the Integrated Border Stability Mechanism (IBSM) for West Africa. Like all of you gathered here, the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law, or IIJ, is committed to advancing the rule of law, justice, security, and human rights in the context of countering terrorism and transnational organized crime, with particular focus on the countries of West Africa. Border security and stability are integral to all the work we collectively do.

First, a bit of background. The IIJ was established in 2014 and one of three institutions inspired by the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF). Some of our 12 founding members and the European Union are present today, as well as many GCTF members and active supporters and partners of the IIJ, including Japan.

Our mandate is to provide rule of law-based training to lawmakers, police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials, and other justice sector stakeholders on how to address terrorism and related transnational organized crime. The IIJ also works to strengthen criminal justice systems and build regional judicial, police and other criminal justice practitioner networks to promote justice, security and human rights.

Our work is non-political, technical, practitioner-focused, and based on a peer-to-peer approach. We have a committed 30-person team, from 20 different nationalities, with a range of senior criminal justice practitioners from countries across the globe. From its inception in 2014, in addition to Middle East and Southeast Asia, the IIJ has focused a substantial portion of its work in Africa and especially West Africa, establishing long-lasting partnerships with practitioners and other organizations – including IOM, UNODC and UNOCT — to support effective criminal justice responses to terrorism. Though border security has never been the singular focus of any of our wide range of programs, nearly all of the work we do impacts, and is impacted, by strong border security. Thank you for the opportunity to explain how.

Let me start with a basic precept that brings us all together today: terrorism is a uniquely cross-border phenomenon — the way fighters are recruited, terrorist groups are structured, supplies are furnished, funds are raised, attacks are committed against victims from various nationalities and propaganda is shared is almost inherently transnational. This necessarily means that the way criminal justice practitioners combat terrorism must be equally transversal — how evidence is gathered and shared, cases built, witnesses and victims identified and protected, and defendants found and held accountable. This is exactly how the IIJ contributes to the fight against terrorism – by equipping practitioners with the skills to investigate and prosecute cases with international dimensions.

Let me give you some examples.

Since it was created in 2020, our Academic Unit has offered intensive HR and RoL based core courses Counter Terrorism Academic Curriculum (in French, programme de perfectionnement Contre- terrorisme : Approfondissement des compétences, CTAC).

These tailored, intensive and subregional courses are focusing on counter-terrorism investigative skills for selected women and men,mid-level to senior practitioners, reinforcing the skills essential to holding terrorists accountable. Integral to these curricula is collaborative and inter-agency approach, coordination at a national basis (from capitals to borders) to strengthen cross-border cooperation (police-to-police, justice-to-justice) and the effective use of cross border instruments and platforms (including G5 Sahel, Interpol for instance) at every relevant stage of a case, whether collecting evidence, victims or suspects. This is also a way to develop subregional dynamic professional networks within our Alumni, to facilitate cooperation across boarders in due respect of State sovereignty.

We have now offered the CTAC course, and its online eCTAC component, to practitioners from up to12 countries in West Africa and Sahel in their working language (Arabic, English or French). More broadly, we are currently working with 23 countries in North, East, Central, and West Africa. We have just Monday launched our first ever CTAC for West African Francophone trial judges , alongside another iteration of our CTAC for prosecutors and investigative judges from West Africa.

As an institution, through our own activities, via our internal expertise as well as within our alumni network, we also actively participate in various fora with partners to strengthen some key points mentioned during this inaugural meeting, such as last June the fight against proliferation and use of weapons, ammunitions and IEDs during the last (GCTF) West Africa Working Group Meeting in Togo or to promote cooperative platforms during the Twelfth plenary meeting of the West African Central Authorities and Prosecutors’ Network (WACAP) held in Banjul (Gambia).

Our Monitoring and evaluation assessments show that all these skills and knowledge are transferable in various transnational issues such as arms smuggling, drugs trafficking or human trafficking and are, as I mentioned earlier, directly linked to strengthening cooperative border governance and security in areas strategically relevant for regional stability for neighbouring countries.

Our Programmatic Unit builds upon and expands these skills with a wide range of programs that address both foundational competencies common to all CT investigations, as well as specific aspects of the fight against terrorism. For instance, we have a lengthy history of working with practitioners on mutual legal assistance, helping to improve the way evidence is shared across international borders. This includes the expertise to determine when evidence from another country is important to a case, and the skills necessary to make the full range of informal, law-enforcement-to-law-enforcement and diplomatic requests for that evidence.

But our work on MLA goes way beyond that. We’ve drafted guiding principles on how to establish a central authority, which is the national mechanism to manage international evidence exchange, and have run a series of regional programs to disseminate it. By way of examplse from other sub-regions of Africa, we’ve recently offered a program for Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi to improve how they address shared security problems along their common borders. We helped Senegal draft the first wholesale revision of its MLA law since 1971. And we’re actively helping Somalia develop its first ever domestic legislation to create a mechanism for MLA and extradition. What could be more central to strong border stability than a plan for addressing shared cross-border challenges and a rule-of-law based mechanism for exchanging evidence to hold wrong-doers accountable?

As I mentioned, we also offer a wide range of programming on specific aspects of terrorism, always raising awareness of, and building skills to effectively investigate and prosecute, the cross-border dimensions. For example, we’ve run a very well-received series of programs on sexual violence as a weapon of terrorism, the very first of which was in Burkina Faso in partnership with the Ministry of Gender. This initiative looks at how terrorist organizations use sexual violence as a strategic tool to recruit fighters, humiliate and condition resistors, destabilize communities, and spawn the next generation of fighters.

But it also focuses on the junction of sexual violence and human trafficking, whereby terrorist groups sell a portion of their sexual violence victims across borders to raise funds for terrorist operations. Raising practitioner awareness of these operating tactics, reinforcing their ability to detect and stop cross-border human trafficking of sexual violence victims and others, and equipping them with the tools to hold wrong-doers responsible directly impacts regional border security.

Over the last two years, the IIJ has also launched a new initiative to combat the financing of terrorism. Rather than duplicating introductory programming that others have already offered, we’ve dived right into the details, working with countries in West Africa to address deficiencies noted in their FATF audits. This has included, most notably, a series of sub-regional workshops in Cote d’Ivoire on how terrorist organizations exploit cash-rich businesses and the non-profit sector to launder funds and finance their operations.

For money laundering to be successful, dirty funds must move from where they are raised, through legitimate operations, to where they are needed. In the terrorism context, this almost always involves transport of laundered funds across international boundaries, often physically through bulk cash smuggling. IIJ programs bring together investigators and prosecutors, regulatory officials, regional financial bodies like the Egmont Group, and private sector to understand these criminal trends, discuss shared challenges and find practical solutions. Because the more they collectively understand how money is made, laundered and moved, the better they can protect businesses and non-profits from exploitation and detect abuse when they see it. And criminal justice practitioners who have the capacity to build terrorist finance cases based on illegal movement of funds have a direct impact on the amount of dirty money that moves across borders.

Finally, I would like to highlight also The Counter-Terrorism Platform for Human Rights Engagement (CT PHARE), a new global facility funded by the European Union’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), which of course includes West Africa. CT PHARE’s objective is to increase the degree to which states’ counter-terrorism policies, legislation, day-today investigation, prosecution and judicial strategies comply with European and internationally recognised human rights standards which contribute to the collaborative approach with our partners. This is also a way to support African Union and ISBSM objective on this positive potential of borders “as vectors to promote peace, security, and stability, and to improve and accelerate integration through effective governance of borders while facilitating easy movement of people, goods, services and capital among AU Member States”.

This is just a sampling of the types of programs the IIJ offers; I haven’t mentioned, for instance, our significant work on juvenile justice in the context of terrorism, collection and use of battlefield evidence, and an ever-expanding range of other topics linked to the fight against terrorism. I hope this helps illustrate, however, how IIJ programming helps reinforce the integrated safety net at West Africa’s borders by training professionals to understand, investigate and prosecute terrorism and other cross-border crime. The IIJ is supportive of the Integrated Border Stability Mechanism for West Africa launched today to further improve international coordination and collaboration for enhanced integrated border management capacity development in West Africa, including through our dynamic IIJ Alumni network. On behalf of the entire team at the IIJ, I commend you all on your efforts to improve border safety and stability in the region, and re-iterate our commitment to working with you all as part of long-term regional solutions.

Discours du M. Steven Hill lors de l’ouverture de la 4e édition du programme de perfectionnement de l’Unité académique de l’IIJ

Mesdames et messieurs, membres de la magistrature du Bénin, de la Côte d’Ivoire, de la Mauritanie, de la République centrafricaine, du Tchad et du Togo, 

Je suis Steven Hill, avocat et Secrétaire exécutif, et je vous souhaite la bienvenue à l’IIJ dans le cadre de ce programme de perfectionnement eCTAC, CTAC pour « Contre- terrorisme : Approfondissement des Compétences » et « e (i) », car il est en ligne.  
Cette formation est conduite sous la direction de Madame la juge Marie Compère et de Monsieur le procureur Samna, entourée de toute l’équipe de l’Unité académique de l’IIJ (Madame Ikram Mensi, Madame Luana Campagna, et Monsieur Swann Goudet) et des experts dont vous ferez progressivement la connaissance. Je les salue et remercie de leur engagement. Ils seront tous à vos côtés dans le cadre de cette rencontre exceptionnelle, en ligne, et je l’espère pour vous toutes et tous ensuite, en présentiel ici à Malte. 

L’IIJ, institut international pour la justice et l’État de droit, est un institut de formation international et un pôle de ressources pour vous, praticiens du monde judiciaire. Il agit grâce à l’appui financier des États qui croient en sa mission et qui ont confiance en nos équipes. C’est la raison pour laquelle ce programme, entièrement créé par l’Unité académique, est aujourd’hui financé par le gouvernement des États-Unis. 
Le mandat de l’IIJ est de délivrer des formations fondées sur l’État de droit aux législateurs, enquêteurs, procureurs, juges d’instruction, juges, fonctionnaires de l’administration pénitentiaire et afin de les aider à lutter contre le terrorisme et la criminalité transnationale organisée, en s’appuyant sur leur contexte, leur expertise et leur engagement. 
L’IIJ aide les praticiens et leurs États.
•    à renforcer les capacités de leurs systèmes de justice pénale, 
•    à développer des mécanismes plus solides et plus efficaces afin de traiter les procédures de terrorisme, 
•    à promouvoir une connaissance plus approfondie des principes juridiques internationaux et des bonnes pratiques de traitement du contentieux terroriste. 
Appuyer les praticiens de la justice pénale permet en effet 
•    non seulement d’accroître la légitimité des systèmes judiciaires, de minimiser le risque de violation des Droits humains et de promouvoir l’État de droit, 
•    mais aussi de renforcer les dispositifs de lutte contre le terrorisme et de contribuer à la prévention du risque terroriste.
Notre travail est 
•    apolitique, 
•    technique, 
•    axé sur les praticiens 
•    et fondé sur une approche entre praticiens, entre pairs. 
Pour ce faire, nous travaillons en partenariat avec vous d’abord, et avec l’ensemble des praticiens qui ont participé à nos activités, nos alumni. Nous travaillons également avec les Nations Unies et leurs agences, le Forum mondial de la lutte contre le terrorisme, vos Etats et, si vous le souhaitez, vos institutions de formation judiciaire. 
Notre ambition : Répondre aux besoins des praticiens. 
Depuis sa création en 2014, l’IIJ a travaillé avec plus de 8500 participants de 125 pays. 
À l’IIJ, nous avons trois zones d’action prioritaires que sont l’Afrique, le Moyen Orient et l’Asie du Sud Est. Nous travaillons en français avec les francophones, en anglais avec les anglophones et en arabe avec les arabophones, pour assurer une formation d’excellence. 
Notre équipe de 30 personnes, de 20 nationalités différentes, est établie à Malte. Elle est composée de praticiens chevronnés de la justice pénale provenant de pays du monde entier. 
Depuis janvier 2023, nous avons ainsi mis en œuvre avec succès 13 activités de renforcement des capacités, dont 11 programmes ciblés de courte durée et deux programmes tels que celui que vous allez aujourd’hui débuter, le programme de perfectionnement « Contre -terrorisme : Approfondissement des Compétences ». Au cours de cette période, nous avons travaillé avec un total de 312 praticiennes et de praticiens pour un nombre total de 1 083 jours de formation.
L’eCTAC, ce programme de perfectionnement que vous débutez aujourd’hui, porte bien son titre, puisque vous avez été sélectionné pour représenter votre État en raison de vos fonctions actuelles. 
Je sais ce programme particulièrement exigeant. Il couvre de manière extrêmement pratique les points essentiels que vous rencontrez sur le terrain, en se focalisant sur l’enquête proactive, avant la survenance de l’attentat. 
Il vous permet de vous rencontrer les uns les autres et de renforcer cette communauté judiciaire, indispensable pour répondre à une telle menace, complexe, évolutive, comme nombre d’entre vous le vivent malheureusement au quotidien ou doivent s’y préparer. 
En ce lundi 11 septembre, jour de commémoration bien particulier, qui nous rappelle chaque jour, et à chaque nouvel attentat, notre engagement au service de la justice de nos États et de nos populations, je vous renouvelle mes vœux de bienvenue. 
Je vous souhaite d’excellents travaux et vous encourage vraiment à échanger via cette formation autant que possible. 
Je formule le souhait de vous retrouver toutes et tous à Malte au mois de novembre. 
Entre temps, je serai heureux d’accueillir virtuellement cet après-midi la première promotion des magistrats du siège pour le programme de perfectionnement CTAC consacré au jugement des procédures de terrorisme, il est en effet essentiel de permettre aux acteurs essentiels de la chaîne pénale de bénéficier d’une même approche pratique et d’excellence. 
Puis, je représenterai notre bel institut à New York dans le cadre de la Semaine de l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies pour défendre ce qui nous réunit aujourd’hui : le droit des praticiens de se former et de se spécialiser, de faire avancer le droit.

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