25 Syrian officials face lawsuits in Sweden
In their quest to achieve justice for the victims of the Syrian war, nine Syrian torture survivors filed a criminal complaint in Sweden against senior officials of the Syrian regime, accusing them of committing crimes against humanity.
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday 19 February, was jointly supervised by European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research, the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, and Civil Rights, Defenders, a Swedish NGO, as well as the Caesar Report group.
The plaintiffs are the victims who were arrested following the peaceful protests that began in March 2011. They were subjected to arrest and severe torture using various methods. After their release, they left Syria and are currently living in several European countries.
The lawsuits filed to the Swedish judiciary are aimed at prompting the Swedish legal authorities to question 25 intelligence officials, including Jamil Hassan and others whose names have not yet been identified, and to issue international arrest warrants against them.
The legal action undertaken by the victims, which is based on the Swedish Penal Code, aims at suing the perpetrators for committing crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and degrading treatment as well as rape, serious physical injuries, and kidnapping.
Why the Swedish courts
Journalist and rights defender Mansour Omari, who is involved in this case as a plaintiff and witness, explained to Enab Baladi why the victims have chosen to file the lawsuits in Sweden. Thus, Sweden is one of the countries that have a specialized universal jurisdiction in this legal field. The judicial system in this country allows for the prosecution of war criminals even if they did not commit the violations on its territories, and even if the offender or the victim does not hold the Swedish nationality.
In addition, a large proportion of the Syrian refugees are based in Sweden, including a significant number of victims or their families.
Steps to follow filing the lawsuit
Al-Amri pointed out that the next step that will follow filing the lawsuit is to wait for the decision of the Swedish prosecutor either to accept the complaint or to reject it, believing that the lawsuit will be approved because it meets the legal requirements complying with the Swedish law. Following this initial step, the judiciary will complete its investigation and issue arrest warrants against whoever proved to be involved in the offence.
He believes that this step is preliminary in a long legal path ahead, as achieving justice for the victims of the Syrian conflict and the enforcement of transitional justice remains impossible as long as al-Assad remains in power controlling the legal and executive systems in the country.
The regime’s violations continue
Al-Amri noted that although many consider the Syrian war to be over, this does not mean that the suffering and the violations have stopped.
The regime has continued to commit crimes in the areas which fell under its control recently. The violations perpetrated by al-Assad forces ranged from arbitrary arrests to murders under torture and other forms of oppression. However, justice will not be buried under the rubble of the victims’ homes nor with the bodies of their loved ones.
Al-Amri considered that overlooking justice in a country where millions of victims have fallen after the massacres, the displacement and the destruction which befallen the Syrian people by external and internal aggressors, will shatter the founding principles on which the Syrian society must be reconstructed in order to revive a healthy and stable community.
In addition, justice is not only important for the Syrians, but for the entire world. Countries of the EU must put their values and judicial systems into action to hold criminals accountable and ensure they will not turn into safe shelter for those who committed war crimes against humanity. These countries must highlight that international community will not be complicit in this brutality and remain silent about it because the Syrians are human beings who deserve justice just like others, as he put it.
Al-Amri pointed out that the “war crimes commission” contacted him after this complaint was submitted, asking him to allow the commission to examine the pieces of the shirt he had previously smuggled to include it as evidence.
When he was released from prison in 2013, al-Amri smuggled a shirt with the names of 80 detainees in the fourth division written on it using chicken bones, blood and rust. Nabil Sharbaji, the detainee who died in the regime prison and one of the founders of Enab Baladi was the one to write these names.
Through revealing the shirt, al-Amri seeks to voice the detainees in the regime’s prisons at international community so as to influence international public opinion, communicate the struggle of detainees in Syrian intelligence prisons and highlight the issue of missing detainees among the files of the Syrian issue.
Security Coordination between France and Germany
On February 13, the Federal Prosecution in Germany announced the arrest of two Syrian intelligence agents involved in torture of detainees in the regime’s prisons.
The German authorities carried out a security operation in the cities of Berlin and Zweibrucken, during which two members of the Syrian intelligence, Anwar aged 56 years and Iyad, 42 years, were arrested.
Both of them were accused of committing “crimes against humanity” when they used to work for the Syrian regime in 2011 and 2012. Then, they split from the regime and came to Germany in 2012, and obtained asylum after submitting an application.
Last May, the German public prosecutor issued the first international arrest warrant for members of the Syrian regime. The head of the Air Intelligence Service, General Jamil Hassan, filed a criminal complaint filed by former detainees against him.
In November, the French judiciary issued an international arrest warrant against three of al-Assad senior officers, namely Ali Mamlouk, head of Syria’s National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, director of the Syrian Air Intelligence Directorate, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, head of Investigation Branch of Air Intelligence.
Talks about security coordination taking place between France and Germany to prosecute the perpetrators of “war crimes” in Syria have been going on especially since the recent German security operation coincided with another operation in France. Ex-Syrian agent at the Security Services of the regime was arrested during that operation.
Amid the international community’s inability to establish an international tribunal to hold those involved in violations in Syria accountable, the European judiciary has resorted to using individual powers to hold other individuals accountable for “crimes against humanity” as a result of human rights efforts that have gathered evidence, documented violations, and placed them in the hands of European justice. These efforts give hopes to the Syrian victims that the state of impunity which has lasted for 8 years in Syria would finally reach an end.