France's Arrest Warrant for Assad May Mark a First

Syrian president is accused of war crimes in connection with 2013 chemical attack
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 15, 2023 10:30 AM CST
France Issues Arrest Warrant for Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad waves to his supporters at a polling station in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus, on May 26, 2021.   (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

French investigative judges have issued an international arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar Assad and those close to him. The warrants for Assad, his brother, and two army generals accuse them of complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with August 2013 chemical attacks on rebel-held Damascus suburbs. The AP reports that under French law, the arrest warrants remain secret as the investigation continues, though a French judicial official confirmed to the New York Times the warrants were signed Tuesday.

More than 1,400 people died in the attacks on Douma and eastern Ghouta, and survivors filed a complaint that prompted the opening of France's investigation in March 2021; Assad has consistently denied the use of chemical weapons. Syria isn't a member of the International Criminal Court, and as such, there's no international court or tribunal with jurisdiction over Syrian crimes. In the absence of that, the Times reports "a patchwork of efforts for accountability has been underway for some time," with efforts also in the works in Germany and Sweden.

The Times reports this may mark the first time a national court has issued a warrant for the sitting president of another country on suspicion of war crimes. The paper reports it's unlikely Assad would ever end up in French court, though a trial in absentia could occur. AFP recalls that in the wake of the 2013 attack, videos posted to YouTube showed corpses, including those of children, and footage of people convulsing and foaming at the mouth. A UN report later said there was "clear and convincing evidence" that sarin gas had been used. (More Bashar al-Assad stories.)

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