As It Happens

Why this Swedish lawmaker wants to set up a new court for ISIS fighters

The proposed court would be based in Iraq and resemble the international criminal courts created in the aftermath of the wars in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

'This is perhaps the worst terrorist organization we've seen in modern history,' says Mikael Damberg

Swedish Interior Minister Mikael Damberg wants to set up an international court in Sweden to try ISIS fighters for war crimes. (EPA)

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Swedish Interior Minister Mikael Damberg thinks it's time to set up a whole new court to try ISIS fighters accused of committing war crimes in Syria and Iraq.

The proposed court would be based in Iraq and resemble the international criminal courts created in the aftermath of the wars in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

To do this, Sweden will need the co-operation of countries like the U.S. and Canada, which is no easy feat.

Here is part of Damberg's conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Why do you think this court is necessary?

I think it's necessary because it's a moral issue, because this is perhaps the worst terrorist organization we've seen in modern history.

I think it's important for the world not just to turn the page, but actually to take into account that we have to make these terrorists accountable for their actions and condemn people — and hopefully in the region.

But do you have have an idea of who would be tried? I mean, there are people who are being held in the region, people who are fighting in Syria and Iraq, and some who have left. Who would you actually prosecute in this court?

I think most people agree that we start with the people in the region. But, of course, this has to be discussed between the countries that are now feeling more and more interest [in] an international tribunal.

I find that countries that hesitated in the beginning now feel that it's time to see if it's possible to form an international tribunal or hybrid solution in the region.

So, of course, this is not only a discussion for Sweden, but together with other countries that want to see this possibility.

This Jan. 12, 2016, file photo shows the exterior view of the headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (Mike Corder/Associated Press)

At some point you do run into the problem of the definition of what it is and the jurisdiction of what it is. This is what happened in former Yugoslavia. This is what happened in Rwanda. It went into the weeds in a number of ways, didn't it?

Of course. I don't say it's easy to set up an international tribunal, and all the international courts and tribunals we've seen in the world up to now [have been] different.

And that's why Sweden will invite an expert meeting in Stockholm in the beginning of June to actually gather all the relevant parties in Europe to discuss it, and to see what ways forward do we see together.

Do you think it's difficult to do prosecutions from abroad? Do you think they have to be in the region in order to get those witnesses and the evidence?

The Swedish experience is that we're doing it in Sweden, but it's very expensive and it's very complicated because sometimes you have to travel to the region to see an experience. You have to get in contact with the system and evidence in the region.

So the course is much more complicated, but that's why we say if we can get an international court or tribunal or international mechanism in the region, then we believe there will be more convictions.

And will the war crimes you want to prosecute be confined to the war in Syria, or the war in Iraq as well? 

This is one of the things that has to be discussed on the expert level to get the right way of going forward. 

Iraqi security forces hold an ISIS flag on the outskirt of Ramadi on Dec. 23, 2014. (Reuters)

And what happens if people raise the issue or accuse the United States of having committed war crimes or crimes against humanity in its ... war in Iraq? 

For Sweden, you know, I think it's the same with Canada. We always defend the international law on a rule-based world. So, of course, we think that [these] crimes ... should be prosecuted.

But, of course, now is a very special situation with the terrorist ISIS organization that has both done the terrorist attacks around the world, but also brought devastating death and destruction to a region. 

If there is any suggestion that there may be an issue for the U.S. military, it is unlikely that you'll get support from the U.S. government. How necessary is it the United States would be onside for any effort to establish this tribunal?

I think the U.S. has a key role in the region. If the U.S. decides to take their hands off the region ... there will the big problems on the ground and with security.

So, of course, the U.S. is a relevant partner in this.

Do you have Canada's support? 

We'll see.

I think it's important to get to write in the history book that this was nothing that we just turned our head and went away [from], but actually made an international effort to both prosecute and come to accountability.

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Alison Broverman. Produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been condensed and edited for clarity.


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