For the first time ever, France has issued arrest warrants for Syrian President Bashar Assad and his brother Maher, who heads an elite Syrian army unit, in connection with the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack on its own population in 2013.
Arrest warrants were also issued for Syria’s General Ghassan Abbas, director of Branch 450 of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) and General Bassam al-Hassan, presidential adviser for strategic affairs and liaison officer between the presidential palace and the SSRC.
The four high-ranking officials are charged with complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Humanity Division of the Paris Judicial Court, in connection with two August 2013 chemical weapons attacks on their own civilians.
More than a thousand Syrians, including hundreds of children, were murdered by their own government in two attacks using internationally banned sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta and in the town of Douma.
The case was filed in France by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), said attorney Mazen Darwish, founder of the Center and included the testimony of survivors of the August 2013 attacks, according to a statement by the plaintiffs. The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Syrian Archive joined the case as well.
This is believed to be the first time a nation has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state in another country on charges of crimes against humanity.
An Interpol ‘Red Notice’ request for law enforcement around the world to locate and arrest an individual pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action is expected to follow the decision.
Assad denied Syria’s use of chemical weapons in 2017, claiming the Syrian government has “never used our chemical arsenal in our history … because it’s not acceptable.”
“The French judiciary’s issuance of arrest warrants against the head of state, Bashar al-Assad, and his associates constitutes a historic judicial precedent,” Darwish noted.
“It is a new victory for the victims, their families and the survivors, and a step on the path to justice and sustainable peace in Syria.”
A previous joint inquiry of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an April 2017 attack and has repeatedly used chlorine as a weapon as well.