France issues warrant for Assad on war crimes

France issued arrest warrants on Nov. 15 for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his brother Maher al-Assad, de facto chief of the regime's elite 4th Armored division, as well as two high-ranking military generals. The warrants stem from an investigation into two chemical weapons attacks that occurred in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in August 2013, resulting in the death of over 1,000 people. French officials launched the investigation in 2021 after the Syrian Center for Media & Freedom of Expression (SCM) and other nongovernmental organizations filed a complaint with the Specialized Unit for Crimes against Humanity & War Crimes of the Paris Judicial Court. The SCM argued that the use of chemical weapons is a jus cogens crime, implying an absolute prohibition with no immunity based on state sovereignty.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria became party to in 2013, specifically prohibits the use of chemical weapons such as sarin, the substance allegedly employed in the attack. Despite Syrian regime denials, a UN mission uncovered "clear and convincing" evidence of sarin use. The complaint is also supported by victim testimonies and evidence collected by various organizations, including declassified intelligence reports and open-source information analysis.

The case is based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which permits the prosecution and judgment of crimes against humanity or war crimes even when the acts were committed abroad and neither the perpetrator nor the victim is French. Similar complaints regarding the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government have been submitted in Germany and Sweden. 

The SCM described the issuing of the arrest warrants as an "historical judicial precedent."

From Jurist, Nov. 15. Used with permission.

See our last reports on the Ghouta chemical attacks, and efforts to bring war crimes charges against Basar Assad in spite of his current drive for regime "normalization."

Syria officials sentenced for crimes against humanity

The Paris Criminal Court on May 24 sentenced in absentia three high- ranking Syrian officials to life imprisonment for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The defendants were Ali Mamlouk, advisor to President Bashar Al-Assad and former head of the National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, former head of the Syrian Air Force intelligence service and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence in Mezzeh military airport in Damascus. The case concerns the forced disappearance of two French-Syrian dual-nationals. (Jurist)