“Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his brother and two army generals have been accused of various war crimes and crimes against humanity including a chemical attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs. Paris-based lawyers, Jeanne Sulzer and Clemence Witt, representing the plaintiffs and NGOs behind the complaint, called it a “crucial milestone in the battle against impunity”. ‘This signifies a positive evolution in case law recognizing the grave nature of the crimes committed,’ Jeanne Sulzer said.
Investigative judges have yet to comment on the arrest warrants that are currently under investigation. The investigation was opened following a complaint filed by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression in March 2021. More than 1,000 people were killed and thousands were injured in the 2013 attacks on Douma and Eastern Ghouta. Survivors consider the arrest warrants as ‘a new victory’ and ‘an initial step towards achieving justice.’
A Positive Development Amidst International Silence
The decision has brought the chemical attacks back to international attention. This comes at a time when international focus has drifted away from Syria due to normalization agreements with Assad’s government by several Arab countries. Alaa Makhzoumi expressed hope that the decision will prompt other countries to assist in implementing the arrest warrants, with the aim of bringing Assad to justice.
A Call for Justice and Liability
Additionally, complaints relating to the chemical attacks in 2013 and 2017 were submitted to the authorities in Germany and Sweden. The French complaint convinced the judges that there is ‘serious or corroborating evidence making it likely’ that Assad, his brother Maher, and two generals ‘took part in planning an execution of these attacks and bear individual criminal responsibility for the crimes’.
An Urgent Need for Accountability
Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court, suggesting that the court does not currently have jurisdiction. Although the OPCW investigative team has found that Syrian forces used chemical weapons in previous attacks, the lack of efficient means of prosecution presents a dilemma.
The decision has ignited hope of justice and accountability, but it also raises concerns about the role of international legal mechanisms in a complex geopolitical context. Amidst diplomatic challenges and geopolitical rivalries, the question of whether international laws and mechanisms can transcend these barriers remains an open debate. The international community needs to contemplate these questions for a justice system that is effective and truly universal.”