Press release

France Must Uphold Arrest Warrant for Syria's President al-Assad

May 13, 2024
+1 212-548-0378

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative has joined more than 60 Syrian and international advocacy groups in a joint statement urging the French government to support an arrest warrant issued in November last year against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad over the use of banned chemical weapons against civilians in August 2013.

More than 1,000 people died in the chemical attacks on the areas of Eastern Ghouta and Douma which were the focus of a legal investigation launched by the Specialized Unit for Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes of the Paris Judicial Court.

In November, the French investigating judges found there is a sufficient basis to issue arrest warrants for four senior officials in Syria’s government for alleged responsibility for the attacks, including President al-Assad.

But the public prosecutor’s office, which would be responsible for asking the police to enact the warrant and pursuing the case in court, is challenging arguing that as a sitting head of state, al-Assad is immune from trial and prosecution in France.

The investigation was opened in response to a criminal complaint based on the testimony of survivors of August 2013 attacks, filed in March 2021 by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and by Syrian victims. The complaint was supported by the Mnemonic/Syrian Archive and the Open Society Justice Initiative, which together with Civil Rights Defenders have joined the investigation as civil parties, as well as members of the Association of the Victims of Chemical Weapons.

The joint statement asserts that existing immunities for sitting heads of state should not apply in the case of alleged responsibility for international atrocity crimes, and particularly not in the case of the use of banned chemical weapons.

It notes that in the context of Syrian chemical attacks, the international community and the UN Security Council have repeatedly demanded that all perpetrators must be held accountable for their use.

Steve Kostas, a senior lawyer at the Open Society Justice Initiative, said:

“France has been a leader against the use of chemical weapons and can now provide hope for justice by allowing the investigation into Bashar al-Assad’s role in chemical attacks to continue. It’s time to end impunity and uphold the rule of law.”

Hadi al-Khatib, director of Mnemonic, said: “We stand with the survivors and victims of chemical attacks in Syria, demanding justice and accountability. Every responsible official, irrespective of their high-ranking positions, must be held accountable—there can be no immunity for such serious crimes.”

The joint statement notes France’s leadership role in the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons—a coalition of over 40 states and the European Union, as well as its consistent stance demanding accountability for all perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria.

It calls on the French government to “affirm its support for the independent judicial investigation of all those suspected of criminal responsibility for these atrocities, including Bashar al-Assad.”




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