French judicial authorities on Wednesday issued international arrest warrants against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, his brother and two army generals.
The four men are wanted for their alleged involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity, including a 2013 chemical attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs, lawyers for Syrian victims said Wednesday.
In addition to President Al-Assad, arrest warrants were issued against his brother, Maher Al-Assad, commander of the 4th Armored Division, and two Syrian army generals, Ghassan Abbas and Bassam Al-Hassan.
Paris prosecutors have not commented publicly on the arrest warrants, which remain secret under French law while the investigation is ongoing.
However, Jeanne Sulzer and Clémence Witt, the Parisian lawyers who represent the plaintiffs, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGO) at the origin of the complaint, welcomed the decision of the French authorities.
More than 1,000 people were killed and thousands more injured in August 2013 attacks on Douma and eastern Ghouta.
The investigation into the two chemical weapons attacks was conducted under
universal jurisdiction in France by investigating judges from the department specializing in crimes against humanity and war crimes of the Paris High Court. The investigation was opened in March 2021 following a criminal complaint filed by survivors and NGO.
The government of Bashar Al-Assad was widely considered by the international community to be responsible for the sarin gas attack of August 21, 2013 in the Damascus suburbs, then controlled by the opposition, in Eastern Ghouta.
The Syrian government and its allies have denied responsibility and said the Ghouta attack was carried out by opposition forces trying to provoke foreign military intervention.
It was following this attack that the American president at the time, Barack Obama, affirmed that the use of chemical weapons by Bashar Al-Assad would constitute the
Red line for the United States. Washington finally reached an agreement with Moscow for Syria to give up its stockpile of chemical weapons.
Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court (CPI). But human rights lawyers have in the past urged prosecutors to CPI to open an investigation into crimes committed during the civil war in Syria.
They argue that the CPI could exercise jurisdiction over Syrian civilians forced to travel to Jordan, which is a member of the international tribunal. For now, the CPI did not open an investigation.
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