Senior Syrian officials found guilty of war crimes

A French court has sentenced three high-ranking Syrian officials to life imprisonment in absentia after finding them guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes during the Syrian civil war.

Using the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to prosecute serious international crimes beyond their borders, the judges ordered that the international arrest warrants issued in November 2023 remain in force.

Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian secret services and security adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; Jamil Hassan, former head of Syrian air force intelligence; and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, intelligence director at the notorious Mezzeh detention centre, were found guilty of the arrest, torture, and death of Franco-Syrians Patrick Dabbagh, a university student, and his father, who were taken from their home in 2013.

The French court's decision is seen as a boost for the families of thousands of Syrians believed to have been tortured to death by intelligence officers working for the al-Assad regime.

International trials of Syrians accused of war crimes began in 2020 after Syrian activists, international rights groups, and national prosecutors across Europe joined forces to use universal jurisdiction to try to hold perpetrators of the Syrian civil war accountable. 

Similar trials have taken place in the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden, but this is the first time that high-ranking members of al-Assad’s inner circle have been charged, convicted, and sentenced.

On 13 January 2022, a German court sentenced Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence officer, to life in prison for torturing at least 4,000 detainees during the war. Raslan is currently serving his sentence in a German prison. For more context and background, read:

European cases to test the reach of prosecuting Syria war crimes

With the path to the International Criminal Court blocked, prosecutors try charging Syrian regime figures another way.

An illustration depicting the Koblenz court on the left-hand side, and a street in Syria on the other.

Syrian war crimes on trial in Germany: Will justice be lost in translation?

When justice happens far away and is conducted in a foreign language, who is it really for?


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