Syrian ex-VP Rifaat al-Assad indicted for war crimes

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland indicted former Syrian vice president Rifaat al-Assad on March 12, referring him to the Federal Criminal Court for trial. The OAG accuses al-Assad of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity while serving as commander of a military operation in the city of Hama in February 1982. The OAG charged al-Assad with ordering homicides, acts of torture, cruel treatment and illegal detentions against civilians during the operation, which came to be known as the Hama Massacre. Government forces had been deployed to Hama to suppress the Islamist opposition, particularly a faction of the Muslim Brotherhood. The OAG estimates the month-long operation led to between 3,000 and 6,000 deaths in the city, the majority civilians.

Advocacy group Trial International initially filed a complaint against al-Assad in Switzerland in 2013, and the OAG initiated criminal proceedings soon after. Al-Assad, who was residing in France, refused to testify before authorities in Switzerland, and fled to Syria in October 2021 after receiving a four-year prison sentence by French courts for embezzlement. The OAG issued an international arrest warrant for him in November 2021.

Rifaat al-Assad, who is the uncle of current Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, has been called the "Butcher of Hama" for his involvement in the 1982 massacre.

Survivors of the Hama massacre have hailed the indictment as progress amid their long wait for justice. One of the three plaintiffs in the case said:

At the beginning, I could not even dream about...Rifaat al-Assad being brought to trial. The indictment shows that such powerful persons can be brought to justice and I want everyone to know what the al-Assad regime did to the Syrian people. My fight is for all the Syrians.

While the acts in question took place over 40 years ago, there is no statute of limitations for war crimes. The case was brought under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows for the prosecution of serious offenses against international law, even when those crimes were committed in another country. Al-Assad's lawyers stated in response to the indictment that al-Assad "has always denied any involvement in the acts of which he is accused in these proceedings."

From Jurist, March 13. Used with permission.

See our last reports on Rifaat al-Assad, the Hama Massacre, and  efforts to bring war crimes charges against Bashar Assad

Syrian former general cleared of war crimes in Swedish court

A Swedish court on June 21 acquitted former Syrian general Mohammed Hamo of charges related to his alleged involvement in war crimes committed in Syria in 2012. 

Hamo deserted from the Syrian army in June 2012 and joined opposition forces fighting against the Syrian government. He was granted asylum in Sweden in 2015. Hamo was charged in January 2024, as prosecutors alleged he was responsible for attacks carried out by the Syrian army in the cities of Homs and Hama, which resulted in civilian casualties and damage to civilian property, constituting war crimes. Prosecutors claimed that as head of the Ordnance Department of the Syrian Army’s 11th Division, Hamo was responsible for supplying the weapons used in alleged war crimes.

The court acknowledged the existence of a non-international armed conflict in Syria and recognized that indiscriminate attacks occurred in areas of Homs such as Baba Amr and Al Rastan. However, the court held there was insufficient evidence to that Hamo had a direct role in arming the military units involved in the violations. 

ECCHR Berlin, a human rights advocacy group, described the verdict as “disappointing” for the survivors of the attacks. (Jurist)

Germany arrests five for crimes related to Syria war

German authorities on July 3 arrested five individuals on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the Syrian civil war. The suspects, four stateless Syrian Palestinians and one Syrian national, are accused of killing and torturing civilians. Investigators accused the five suspects of repeatedly abusing civilians between 2012 and 2014, particularly at checkpoints set up by pro0Assad militias in the Palestinian district of Yarmouk in Damascus. (Jurist)