Our Work

Accountability for crimes in Syria & Iraq

Advancing rights for Yazidi, Syrian & Iraqi people

Ahlone ports, Yangon Myanmar

In 2015, the Australian Government introduced citizenship revocation provisions as a tool to fight terrorism and prevent ‘foreign fighters’ in Syria and Iraq, from returning to Australia. Up until the establishment of the Australian Centre for International Justice, the majority of the opposition to these legislative changes centred around citizenship rights and concerns around foreign fighters losing their Australian citizenship. No organisation raised the rights of the victims of these foreign fighters seeking to hold foreign fighters accountable for the credible allegations against them – mainly for crimes against the persecuted Yazidi minority.

Australia is obligated to seek out, investigate and prosecute perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In this instance, Australia’s policy was inconsistent with this obligation and denied survivors the right to justice. Foreign fighters, particularly those individuals fighting with the terror group, ‘Islamic State in Syria and Iraq’ or ISIS were responsible for horrific crimes against Iraqis, Syrians and Yazidi people. In the case of the Yazidi people, ISIS committed acts of genocide against the Yazidi women and subjected young girls and women to acts of sexual violence and slavery.

When the citizenship provisions were up for review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security in 2019, the Australian Centre for International Justice sought to change the debate and ensure Australia’s obligation to hold alleged perpetrators to account became a key focus for policy and law makers. The citizenship revocation provisions are dangerous for many reasons and we highlight the role that it plays in inhibiting Australia’s duty to prosecute Australians suspected of involvement in international crimes. We presented detailed submissions and recommended that the provisions be repealed and for the Government to act to prosecute Australians involved in international crimes. We were invited to give evidence in October 2019 to the Parliamentary Committee.

Legislative changes introduced 

In September 2020 following the Parliamentary Committee’s report, a bill was introduced recognising the need to consider international crimes conduct of foreign fighters in the Explanatory Memorandum. Though the Australian Centre for International Justice fundamentally opposes the policy of citizenship revocation, we welcomed the reform, implementing changes based on recommendations we made. Changes introduced include that when determining whether a person’s citizenship will be revoked, there must be a consideration of whether they were involved in the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Although it may appear at first instance that this is a minor reform, it introduces a significant change to the policy on citizenship revocation and is the first evidence of political will requiring Australian authorities to exercise their obligation to investigate and where appropriate, investigate the commission of grave crimes by foreign fighters.

Our specialist legal expertise on this issue was the first legal advocacy effort to press Australian authorities on their responsibility to investigate international crimes, and proved to be key in contributing to these changes. Yazidi, Syrian and Iraqi survivors of crimes by foreign fighters can now press Australian authorities to implement these changes effectively. We will continue working with our partners to monitor the implementation.

Ahlone ports, Yangon Myanmar

Rodi Said/Reuters

Latest on Accountability for Crimes in Syria & Iraq

Media Release: Australia must prosecute foreign fighters

Media Release: Australia must prosecute foreign fighters

As the government introduced further measures to prevent Australian foreign fighters returning to Australia this week with the passage of the Temporary Exclusion Orders Bill, the Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ) recommends that the Citizenship...

The Australian Centre for International Justice fights to hold accountable those responsible for the most serious international crimes. It continues to be an enormous challenge.

We work with survivors of torture, sexual violence, genocide and war to research and develop strategies to fight for justice.

We are Australia’s first specialist legal centre providing strategic advice and representation to people seeking justice and accountability.

We take action against the impunity of those responsible for committing atrocity crimes. We all benefit by supporting communities in Australia and around the world access justice.

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