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November 15, 2018

Top Syrian Security Chiefs Targeted With International Arrest Warrants

France have reportedly targeted three top Syrian security chiefs with international arrest warrants, with legal and judicial sources citing alleged collusion in war crimes as the basis of the detentions.

Among those targeted are Ali Mamlouk, Syria’s security chief and one President Bashar al-Assad’s most senior advisers; Jamil Hassan, the head of Air Force Intelligence; and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, another senior Air Force Intelligence official, who reportedly heads a detention facility at Mezzeh military airport in Damascus.

The warrants – which name charges including collusion in torture, forced disappearances and crimes against humanity – were issued on October 8 but made public only on Monday, according to the International Federation for Human Rights advocacy group (FIDH).

They stem from a long-running case involving two French-Syrian nationals. Father and son Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh, were arrested by Syrian Airforce Intelligence agents in Syria in November 2013 before disappearing. This summer, their family obtained documents from Syria indicating that the two men died in custody in 2017 and 2014 respectively.

“The international arrest warrants demonstrate that the wall of impunity surrounding Syrian officials at the highest level can indeed be broken,” said Patrick Baudouin and Clémence Bectarte, lawyers representing the plaintiffs

Efforts to prosecute members of the Assad government have repeatedly failed because Syria is not a signatory of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. Russia and China have also vetoed attempts to give the ICC a mandate to set up a special tribunal for Syria.

However, France’s actions could mean that all three suspects face trial outside of Syria, whether they are arrested or not. Germany – which has universal jurisdiction over war crimes, meaning it can prosecute and try crimes committees abroad – has also taken similar steps, issuing an arrest warrant in June for Air Force Intelligence official Hassan on charges he oversaw the torture and murder of hundreds of detainees.

Both investigations have been hinged on evidence provided by “Caesar”, a former Syrian police photographer who fled his country in 2013 taking 55,000 photographs of tortured detainees with him, legal sources said in France.

Rights groups have welcomed the news as a significant development in the fight to gain justice for the 80,000 people estimated to have been subjected to enforced disappearance by the Syrian government since the start of the conflict.

Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research Anna Neistat said:

“These arrest warrants for three senior officials, including a top adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, are an important step towards delivering justice for the countless victims of gross human rights violations carried out by the Syrian government.”

“With war crimes and crimes against humanity continuing to go unpunished in Syria, it is vital that all states cooperate to ensure justice for victims. This includes enforcing universal and other forms of jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute, in their own courts, suspected perpetrators of atrocities.”

“The international community should follow France’s lead by taking steps, wherever possible, to end impunity in the Syria conflict and hold all parties to account.”

Britain is supporting the UN Security Council referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, as well as full cooperation of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to assist in investigating and prosecuting crimes under international law in Syria.

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