War crimes against journalists in Homs: FIDH and victims’ families call for charges to be brought

Press release
en fr

Paris, 12 March 2018 – Six years after the bombing of a hidden makeshift press centre in the rebel-held Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs, that left journalists Rémi Ochlik and Marie Colvin dead, evidence available to French investigators leaves no doubt as to the premeditated, targeted nature of the attack. Likewise, the identities of several individuals alleged to have planned and ordered the attack – all high-ranking members of the Syrian military and security apparatus – is also known. However, no charges have been issued to date. FIDH, together with survivors of the attack and families of the two journalists assassinated in Homs, demand that international arrest warrants against the suspected perpetrators be issued without delay.

While the Syrian regime may have reclaimed the last rebel-held parts of Homs by raining down a constant shower of bombs and missiles on the area, the attack against the clandestine Baba Amr press centre on 22 February 2012 was far from random. The attack killed two people: French photo-journalist Rémi Ochlik, who was 28, and American war correspondent Marie Colvin, and left three others wounded: Wael Al-Omar, Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy.

A preliminary investigation into the attack was opened in France in 2012, initially for assassination and attempted assassination the focus shifted in 2014 to war crimes. An eyewitness to the planning of the attack recently testified before French investigators and confirmed in particular detail earlier information and evidence in the case file that demonstrates it’s premeditated, targeted nature.

The aim of the attack is now clear: eliminate journalists present in Homs to prevent them from reporting on the regime’s bloody campaign to reclaim Homs and discourage other reporters from coming to Syria to cover the conflict from rebel-held zones. The sequence of events is slowly becoming clearer: starting with the interception and tracking of Marie Colvin’s telephone calls; the presence of an informant near the press centre; a meeting to plan the rocket attack held in the head of the Homs Military Security Committee’s offices; and checks after the attack to make sure no journalists had escaped alive.

Several people identified by witnesses as having worked together to plan and carry out the attack are members of the Syrian military and security elite: Maher El Assad, brother of the Syrian president and Commander of the elite 4th Armoured Division; Ali Mamluk, Head of the Syrian Secret Services; and Rafik Shahadah, Head of the Homs Military Security Committee at the time.

The French investigation is today the only case that targets the criminal responsibility of those behind the attack. It is surprising that the French authorities have taken no formal steps against the suspected perpetrators, despite ample evidence in the case file. 

“After Homs, the Syrian regime continued to starve and indiscriminately bomb civilians in rebel-held zones, in Aleppo, Idlib, the Ghouta, and elsewhere…The international community has stood by, powerless, in the face of endlessly excessive, cruel and continued war crimes. Crimes that, in some cases, are committed by the same individuals responsible for the brutal campaign on Homs as well as the 22 February attack on the press centre. It is impossible to understand why an international arrest warrant has not yet been issued against Maher El Assad and his accomplices.”

Mazen Darwish, Syrian lawyer and President of SCM (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression)

“Six years after the attack, despite overwhelming witness testimony and other evidence, the survivors and families of victims of the 22 February attack are still waiting for arrest warrant to be issued and for suspects to be charged. Without strong engagement from the French judicial authorities, we fear the case may lead to a dead end. This outcome would mean impunity for the perpetrators but also deprive survivors and the families of victims from participating in a trial and learning the truth about what happened to their loved ones. More broadly, without hope of justice, there will be no durable peace in Syria.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President
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