UN pressures Ottawa to return Canadian detained in Syria
Jack Letts, then 20, was a British-Canadian detained in a Kurdish prison in Syria. The UN is pressuring the Government of Canada to repatriate him.
The federal government argues before the United Nations (UN) that international law does not oblige Canada to actively facilitate the return of its nationals detained in northern Syria.
Ottawa asserts that the duty to abide by international conventions rests largely with the foreign state detaining these individuals.
Canada sets out its views in a response, dated August 24, to United Nations officials who lobbied Ottawa on the Jack Letts case.
Mr. Letts, now 26, is just one of many Canadians currently detained in camps in Syria run by Kurdish forces. These fighters recaptured the war-torn region of northern Syria from the forces of the armed group Islamic State (IS).
Mr. Letts, a Canadian citizen, was born in Oxford, England, but the British government stripped him of his citizenship three years ago.
Became a devout Muslim, he went on vacation to Jordan at the age of 18, then studied in Kuwait before ending up in Syria. According to his family, he was captured by Kurdish forces as he fled the country with a group of refugees in 2017.
According to John Letts and his wife, Sally, there is no evidence that their son became an IS terrorist fighter. They maintain that Jack opposed the armed group Islamic State and that he was even tried for having publicly condemned this organization.
“I don't think he was one of those people who did horrible things. I am convinced of it.
—John Letts, Father Jack Letts
Canada has stated on several occasions that its ability to provide consular support in particular throughout Syria remains very limited due to the lack of physical presence on the ground in this country. Members of civil society believe that this is a lame pretext.
Jack Letts' parents, Sally Lane and John Letts, say there is no evidence that their son is a fighter with the Islamic State armed group (Archives).
Lawyers from a London firm have filed a complaint against the British and Canadian governments with the UN, on behalf of the parents of Jack Letts. The complaint alleges that the UK and Canada breached their obligations by failing to take necessary and reasonable steps to assist the young man, and breached international law by denying him consular assistance. /p>
It is also argued that both countries have a duty to protect vulnerable people located outside of their territory when they are at risk of serious human rights violations or abuses, and when actions – or refusal to do so – exist. intervene – may affect these rights.
In a June 8 message to Canada, UN officials on human rights and arbitrary detention said that while they did not wish to prejudge the accuracy of the allegations, they had serious concerns about Mr. Letts' continued detention and his rights to life, safety, physical and mental health, due to the dire conditions in these camps.
UN officials have requested information from Canada on what it has done so far to ensure Mr. Letts'well-being and preserve his rights.
In its response last month, Canada explains that while it cannot discuss individual cases, for reasons of confidentiality, the safety and well-being of Canadians abroad is a priority. The government, it is said, aims to provide consular services in a consistent, fair and non-discriminatory manner.
But Ottawa adds that international human rights law does not create a positive obligation for states to protect the rights of persons detained by foreign entities in the territory of another state.
“These individuals are entirely outside the territory and jurisdiction of Canada. Rather, the obligations apply to the State in whose territory the detentions take place.
— Government of Canada Response to Jack Letts Case
While this does not exclude the possibility that a state could be held responsible for aiding or abetting human rights abuses in another state, it would require that the aid or assistance is given to facilitate such wrongful acts. This is clearly not the case here.
Canada adds that although it has received updates on the situation of Canadian women and children in these camps, information about the men is scarcer. The federal government says it has been able to provide some help, such as checking where Canadians are and how they are doing, asking for available medical care, and demanding that those Canadians be treated with humanity.
The Government of Canada has also repeatedly made general requests to Syrian Kurdish officials that concern all Canadian detainees, such as an update on their current status, and #x27;have telephone or messaging access to Canadian detainees.