France issues arrest warrant against three Syrian intelligence officials

A Syrian protester chants slogans as she waves a flag of the opposition as he protest against the regime and its ally Russia, in the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan in the north of Idlib province. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Paris, France Nov 05, 2018, 10.22 PM (IST)

France has issued its first international arrest warrants for three senior Syrian intelligence officials, a move hailed by rights groups Monday as an important step towards prosecuting war criminals.

The warrants -- one of them for National Security Bureau director Ali Mamluk -- were issued for "complicity in acts of torture", "complicity in crimes against humanity" and "complicity in war crimes".

Jamil Hassan, head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence, is also targeted along with Abdel Salam Mahmoud, in charge of the Air Force Intelligence investigative branch at the Mezzeh military aport in Damascus.

All three warrants were issued in connection with the deaths of two Franco-Syrian nationals, father and son Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh.

Mazen Dabbagh was a 57-year-old official working at a French school in Damascus, where Patrick, 22, was a student. 

The pair were arrested in November 2013 and went missing after being detained in the Mezzeh detention centre, according to the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The FIDH says that neither was active in the opposition movement against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and that their arrests remain unexplained. 

They were officially declared dead this summer.

Arrest warrants for the three Syrians were issued on October 8, but made public only on Monday, according to the FIDH.

France is not the first European country to launch legal cases against members of the Syrian regime: similar cases are being pursued in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.

In June, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that German prosecutors had also issued an international arrest warrant for Hassan on charges of overseeing the torture and murder of hundreds of detainees.

Both the French and German investigations have drawn on evidence provided by a former Syrian police photographer known as "Caesar".

He fled Syria in 2013, taking with him 55,000 graphic photographs showing the brutal torture of detainees.

Clemence Bectarte, litigation coordinator for the FIDH, said the French warrants send "a strong signal saying 'impunity must not prevail'."

"It's the first time the French courts have issued international arrest warrants against senior Syrian dignitaries," she told AFP.

"These arrest warrants are the highest level of what the French courts can do," she added.

"It's a very important signal, and a very important symbol, of the level of responsibility that is being placed on the highest echelons of Syria's repressive apparatus."

According to the FIDH, the three officials could be put on trial in France, regardless of whether the arrest warrants were executed, under a process of "extraterritorial jurisdiction" which can be applied to crimes against humanity.

The Syrian government has not ratified the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, and its powerful ally Russia would block any war crimes investigation via the United Nations.

More than 350,000 people are believed to have been killed in the Syrian war, which started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

According to the FIDH, between 250,000 and a million civilians have been arrested and detained by government forces and affiliated militias since the start of the protests.

Story highlights

All three warrants were issued in connection with the deaths of two Franco-Syrian nationals, father and son Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh.