Syria/Chemical weapons: Bashar al-Assad, his brother and two Syrian generals targeted by international arrest warrants issued by the French justice


Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad, and two Syrian generals stand accused of complicity in crimes against humanity and complicity in war crimes for the chemical attacks perpetrated in the summer of 2013. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes this historic decision, which constitutes an unprecedented advancement in the fight against impunity. The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), a member organisation of FIDH, along with Syrian victims have a major and crucial role in this case.

Paris, 17 November 2023. Is Bashar al-Assad’s impunity ending soon? At any rate, the investigation, initiated by the Specialized Unit for Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes of the Paris Judicial Court, following a criminal complaint filed in March 2021 by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) and Syrian victims, is a major development in the path to justice in Syria. Several NGOs (Syrian Archive, Open Society Justice Initiative, and Civil Rights Defenders) have joined as civil parties, as well as members of the Association of Victims of Chemical Weapons.

These arrest warrants target the current President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad in his capacity as the de facto leader of the 4th Armored Division, General Ghassan Abbas, Director of Branch 450 of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), and General Bassam al-Hassan, Presidential Advisor for Strategic Affairs and liaison officer between the Presidential Palace and the SSRC.

"This is a historic judicial precedent", said lawyer Mazen Darwish, founder and general director of SCM and FIDH Secretary General. "It is a new victory that could not be achieved without the courage of the survivors and the efforts of human rights activists of the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) who documented the Sarin attack on Ghouta in 2013."

With a field office located in Eastern Ghouta, the VDC, a project of SCM, documented the chemical attacks among many other atrocities. Documentation efforts resulted in the abduction of VDC team members; lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hammadeh, Samira al-Khalil and Nazem Hammadi by Jaysh al-Islam. To know their fate and pursue justice, SCM, FIDH, and the Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH), filed a complaint in France against the former spokesperson of Jaysh al-Islam, Majdi Nema, for his complicity in war crimes and enforced disappearances.

Such cases are also supported by the testimonies of courageous victims and survivors, who have bravely come forward to share their harrowing experiences. The courage and resilience of Syrian victim associations stand as a testament to the indomitable spirit of those dedicated to upholding human rights, even in the most challenging and perilous circumstances.

"The impunity enjoyed by Syrian dignitaries, and foremost, Bashar al-Assad, is not infinite", states attorney Clémence Bectarte, lawyer for four Syrian civil parties and coordinator of the Judicial Action Group of FIDH. "This historic decision is in line with the investigations conducted by French justice in the Dabbagh and Abou Nabout cases."

For the first time, a foreign sitting head of state is targeted by an arrest warrant issued by a national jurisdiction. Until now, only international courts bypassed the principle of immunity.

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