Press release

New Complaint Filed in Sweden Against High-Ranking Assad Officials for Chemical Weapons Attacks In Syria

April 19, 2021
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LONDON—This week, criminal complaints on the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attacks on Khan Shaykhun and Ghouta in 2017 and 2013 was filed before the Swedish police’s specialized war crimes unit. The complaint was spearheaded by Syrian victims and civil society organizations, including Civil Rights Defenders, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Syrian Archive, and the Open Society Justice Initiative. The groups call on Swedish judicial authorities to open an investigation into these attacks, so that Syrian officials responsible for these war crimes can be put on trial under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Hundreds of civilians, including children, were killed in these attacks, and many more suffered serious, long-lasting injuries. 

“By filing the complaints, we want to support the victims' struggle for truth and justice,” said Hadi al Khatib, founder and director of Syrian Archive. “We hope that a Swedish investigation into these crimes will eventually result in trials and convictions of those who ordered and carried out these attacks. Sweden can and should contribute to putting an end to the current state of impunity in Syria.” Aida Samani, legal adviser at Civil Rights Defenders, added: “In the ten years since the first assaults on pro-democracy protesters in Syria, the government has strategically used chemical weapons as a tool to wear out the civilian population living in opposition-controlled areas and to suppress any resistance against the regime. It is unacceptable that those responsible for these heinous attacks are enjoying absolute impunity.”

This complaints are the third wave in a series of filings undertaken by Syrian Archive, SCM, and the Justice Initiative, following a first complaint filed in Germany in October 2020 and a second filed in France in March 2021. These complaints could allow judicial authorities in multiple jurisdictions to open investigations into chemical weapons attacks, paving the way for warrants to be issued for the Syrian officials who perpetrated them. As in the other complaints, this filing contains first-hand testimonies from victims of the attacks and hundreds of items of documentary evidence, including photos and videos. The evidence points to the use of sarin in the attacks and provides details on the Syrian officials and chains of command responsible for these attacks.

“We want the Swedish police and prosecutors to investigate the attacks with their German and French counterparts. A joint effort will increase the chances of a future European arrest warrant and efficient justice for victims,” said Mazen Darwish, general director of SCM. Steve Kostas, a lawyer at the Justice Initiative, added: “By joining their counterparts in France and Germany to jointly investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Swedish authorities can demonstrate that there will be no impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes.”

The filing comes one day before the 193 member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will meet to discuss a proposal co-sponsored by 46 states to suspend Syria’s voting rights in the organization for its failure to fulfil requests to declare the weapons used in the attacks on Latamneh and disclose its chemical stocks. Eric Witte, senior policy officer at the Justice Initiative, noted that the passage of this measure “would signal that the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons has diplomatic consequences.” In addition, he added that "states must go beyond this to ensure that the perpetrators of these attacks are held accountable and call for a dedicated debate in the UN General Assembly, where states can make commitments for additional measures to support justice for atrocity crimes in Syria.”

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