Official Press Agency of Saudi Arabia via Assoiated Press According to Mazen Darwish, Founder and CEO of SCM, this is the first arrest warrant ever issued against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, seen here at the Arab League summit in May in Saudi Arabia. But states do not necessarily communicate on the mandates they issue, underlined a source close to the matter.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his brother and two generals have been the subject of international arrest warrants from French justice since Tuesday. They are suspected of complicity in crimes against humanity for the chemical attacks perpetrated in Syria in the summer of 2013.
These sarin gas attacks, attributed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, had notably caused more of 1,000 deaths in Eastern Ghouta on August 21, 2013, according to American intelligence.
The four arrest warrants, announced by plaintiff associations and confirmed by a judicial source to AFP, were issued Tuesday by investigating judges from the crimes against humanity unit of the Paris judicial court.
They target the chain of command: the Syrian president; his brother Maher, de facto leader of the Fourth Division, an elite unit of the Syrian army; as well as two generals: Ghassan Abbas, director of branch 450 of the CERS, and Bassam al-Hassan, liaison officer and head of security.
The investigations, carried out by investigating judges under the “extraterritorial jurisdiction” of French justice, also relate to the attacks perpetrated on the night of August 4 to 5 in Adra and Douma (450 injured).
- Ten years after the “apocalypse”, Syrians commemorate the chemical attack on Ghouta
- Syria on the threshold of a new uprising
- Canada and the Netherlands refer Syria to the International Court of Justice
They were launched in April 2021 after a civil party complaint by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and Syrian Archive.
One of the victims, who survived and became a civil party, has dual French-Syrian nationality, which allowed French justice to take up the case.
This is the first time that French justice has issued an arrest warrant against Bashar al-Assad, in power since 2000 after succeeding his father Hafez.
According to Mazen Darwish, founder and general director of SCM, this is the first arrest warrant ever issued against Bashar al-Assad. But states do not necessarily communicate on the mandates they issue, underlined a source close to the matter.
For Clémence Witt and Jeanne Sulzer, lawyers for civil parties, these arrest warrants “are part of a favorable jurisprudential development given the extreme seriousness of the crimes committed”, which “means that the prosecution of the alleged perpetrators of international crimes must now prevail over the procedural rules of immunity.”
The role of President of Bashar al-Assad raised the question of the immunity of heads of state in office.
< p>The issuance of an arrest warrant against him “does not correspond to the legal analysis of the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor's Office on the immunity rationae personae from which heads of state benefit”, explained a judicial source to the 'AFP.
The National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor's Office, on the other hand, issued a favorable opinion on the mandates for Ghassam Abbas, Bassam al-Hassan and Maher El-Assad.
According to a source close to the investigation, these warrants are the culmination of “long-term” “painful work” by investigators from the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes Against Humanity (OCLCH).
Their objective: “to go as high as possible by identifying the chain of command” with research “in open sources that must be cross-checked, on the basis of testimonies and information from declassified documents from intelligence services”.
“If you look at the helicopter pilot who dropped the bomb, he might say 'I was just carrying out orders.' The further back we go, the greater the responsibility,” underlined this source.
In a press release, Hadi al Khatib, founder of Syrian Archive, said he “hopes that other countries” will act “soon” like France.
“These arrest warrants once again illustrate the fact that the requirement to fight against impunity must prevail over immunities,” commented to AFP Clémence Bectarte, lawyer for Syrian civil parties, welcoming a “courageous decision”.
The Syrian regime is the target of several legal actions launched in Europe, particularly in Germany.
In France, a first trial will take place in May in Paris: three senior officials of the Bashar al-Assad regime will be tried for complicity of crimes against humanity and war crimes, for the death of two Franco-Syrian citizens, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, arrested in 2013.
Concerning a bombing in 2017 in Deraa, warrants arrests were issued in October in Paris against four other former senior leaders of the Syrian army.
Started in 2011, the conflict in Syria has left more than half a million dead and divided the country.