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Canada urged to repatriate orphaned five-year-old girl held in Syrian camp

GENEVA (20 May 2020) – UN experts today called on Canada to secure the urgent release and repatriation of a five-year-old orphaned girl being held in inhuman conditions in north-eastern Syria’s overcrowded Al-Hol camp.

“Canada has an obligation to intervene in favour of its nationals abroad, particularly if there are reasonable grounds to believe that their non-derogable human rights have been violated,” said the experts.

“Within this context, special care must be taken for children, particularly if their parents are dead,” the experts emphasized.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic in play, and thus in a time of new vulnerabilities for children, the return of this orphaned child to Canada and reunion with her family/relatives is even more urgent.” 

After her parents – suspected of affiliation with ISIL – were reportedly killed in a 2019 airstrike, she was taken to Al-Hol camp, which houses an estimated 70,000 people, including more than 40,000 children.

“Living conditions of children in Al-Hol camp are inhumane. Deprived of liberty, lacking of basic care, of sufficient food, of shelter from the elements, of safe water, of adequate sanitation, of medical care and of education, they are exposed to harassment, violence and exploitation,” the experts said. “All of these realities pose extreme harm to her.”

“Children like her should be regarded primarily as victims and treated as such. Their best interest should be the primary concern in all actions affecting them. They should not be punished because of the presumed behaviour or affiliation of their parents,” they added.

The human rights experts reminded the Canadian government that children enjoy special protection in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. “The child finds herself in a situation that fails to comply with the most basic standards of humanity. She is in a situation unfit for children and urgently in need of adequate care and protection,” said the experts.

Canada has “primary responsibility” for ensuring that she is treated with humanity and respect of her dignity and human rights. The child has relatives in Canada who have already gone to extreme lengths to bring her back from Syria, the Canadian government should consolidate and deepen its efforts to enable her safe return.

“Partnerships can be optimised and assistance obtained from other State partners and non-State actors which have direct control over territory, to extract individuals from camps, including Al-Hol. Canada’s practical challenges, including lack of consular representation on site, should not obstruct her return.”

“Returning children is a humanitarian and human rights imperative,” the UN experts concluded.

The Government of Canada has been in contact with the experts on the aforementioned issues.


*The UN experts: Fionnuala D. Ní AoláinSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Meskerem Geset Techane (Chair), Elizabeth Broderick (Vice Chair), Alda Facio, Ivana Radačić, and Melissa UpretiWorking Group on discrimination against women and girls; Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Seong-Phil Hong and Sètondji Roland Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Dainius PūrasSpecial Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Proceduresof the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
For further inquiries and media requests, please contact Michelle Erazo Martínez (+41 22 917 9449 / merazo@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9445 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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