Legal actions against Assad regime on the rise in Europe

Sanctions which will multiply further? The Syrian regime is the target of several legal actions launched in Europe, in particular in Germany where the justice system has been active in the face of the abuses documented by NGOs and the testimonies of survivors.

The Koblenz court is due to deliver its verdict on Thursday at the trial of Anwar Raslan, a former colonel of the Syrian intelligence services, accused of crimes against humanity and against whom the prosecution has requested life imprisonment. This trial, split in two, has already ended with the conviction on February 24 of a former member of intelligence, of a lower rank, to four and a half years in prison for “complicity in crimes against humanity” . A historic condemnation, because the first of its kind.

Complaints are piling up in Germany

Complaints of Syrians claiming to have been tortured in the regime’s jails have accumulated in Germany, which applies the legal principle of “universal jurisdiction” allowing a state to prosecute the perpetrators of the most serious crimes, regardless of their nationality and the place where they were committed.

In March 2017, seven Syrian refugees mostly in Germany lodged a complaint against officials of the Syrian secret service. Then, in the following September, nearly 27,000 unpublished photos exfiltrated from Syria by “Caesar”, a former photographer of the military police, who fled in 2013 with 55,000 photographs of bodies tortured in the regime’s prisons, are remitted to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. Two months later, two new appeals were filed by 13 Syrians for acts of torture.

Nine senior officials and a former doctor targeted

In June 2020, the German NGO ECCHR (European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights) announced that seven Syrians, victims or witnesses of rape and sexual abuse in the regime’s detention centers, had filed a complaint.

This specifically targets nine senior government officials and Air Force intelligence services. Among them, a close friend of President Assad, Jamil Hassan, former head of the intelligence services of the Air Force in office until 2019, who is already the subject of an international arrest warrant from the Germany and France.

At the end of July 2021, the courts indicted a former Syrian doctor from a military prison in the city of Homs, prosecuted for crimes against humanity for having tortured detainees. His trial is due to open on January 19 in Frankfurt.

Surveys in Paris

In September 2015, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation for “crimes against humanity”, targeting acts of kidnappings and torture committed by the regime. In July 2016, the family of a Syrian doctor who died at 37 in a regime prison lodged a complaint in Paris for torture and murder.

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At the end of October, an investigation was opened into the disappearance of two Franco-Syrians arrested in Syria in 2013, who have never given any sign of life since. According to the plaintiffs, the victims, Mazen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, were arrested by officers claiming to be members of the Air Force intelligence services.

In November 2018, a French investigating judge issued international arrest warrants against three senior regime officials, suspected of involvement in abuses that notably targeted these two citizens. They are the former head of intelligence who became director of the national security office, Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan and the director of the Bab Touma (Damascus) branch of the intelligence service of the army of the air, Abdel Salam Mahmoud.

A Franco-Syrian charged and imprisoned

In April 2021, three NGOs, which had lodged a complaint with a civil party, obtained the opening of a judicial investigation into chemical attacks perpetrated in 2013 and attributed to the regime. These NGOs had already taken justice in Germany for the facts of 2013, but also for a sarin gas attack in 2017.

At the end of December, a Franco-Syrian was indicted and imprisoned, suspected of having supplied materials to the Syrian army, including components that could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons. This is the first time that an indictment has intervened in an investigation in France into suspicion of supporting Assad’s army, according to a source familiar with the matter.

In Spain, justice rejects a complaint

Complaints have also been filed in Austria, Norway and Sweden, which in 2017 was the first country to convict a former regime soldier for war crimes. Also in Sweden, four NGOs lodged a complaint in April 2021 against President Assad and several senior officials after two chemical attacks in 2013 and 2017.

In Spain, the courts rejected a complaint lodged by a citizen of Syrian origin against nine senior regime officials for the alleged forced detention, torture and execution of her brother in 2013. Finally, an “international mechanism responsible for facilitating the investigations into the most serious violations of international law ”committed since March 2011, set up at the end of 2016 by the UN, is continuing to compile evidence to facilitate possible judgments by those responsible.

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