Alloush is on trial, what about Makdissi?

Former Jaysh al-Islam spokesman Islam Alloush and the former spokesman for the Syrian regime’s government, Jihad Makdissi (edited by Enab Baladi)

Former Jaysh al-Islam spokesman Islam Alloush and the former spokesman for the Syrian regime’s government, Jihad Makdissi (edited by Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas

During the past few years, the case of the former spokesperson of Jaysh al-Islam, Majdi Ne’ma (also known as Islam Alloush), in French courts has witnessed several developments and has taken a further complicated turn when it was referred to the Supreme Court to decide on the competence of the French judiciary and its jurisdiction to consider the substance of such case.

In the context of Syrian human rights debates, this development highlights the importance of seeking the extent to which the organizations concerned have the opportunity to hold accountable the former media spokesman for the Syrian regime’s Foreign Ministry, Jihad Makdissi, since both individuals held the same media position with entities implicated in crimes against humanity against Syrians, in addition to the fact that Makdissi currently resides in Washington, D.C.

In 2017, Islam Alloush announced his resignation from all tasks entrusted to him in the faction and its affiliated institutions, following the general commander’s approval of the request he submitted earlier.

Two years after this resignation, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, along with the families of the Jaysh al-Islam victims who lived under its rule from 2013 to 2018, filed a complaint against Alloush for the crimes committed by the faction in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.

Alloush was a captain in the Syrian regime forces. He defected following the Syrian revolution in 2011 to become a senior officer of Jaysh al-Islam, and its spokesperson alongside the leader, Zahran Alloush, the founder of the group who was killed in an air raid in 2015. That way, Islam Alloush became the most prominent figure of the faction, its official spokesperson, and an advocate for all of its military operations.

Two positions with one single purpose

In terms of facts, Alloush’s position is very similar to that of Makdissi. The latter was presented by the Syrian regime to Western public opinion as an educated diplomatic figure that is proficient in foreign languages in an attempt to whitewash power in Damascus in the media. His name emerged in particular in the 2012 bombing of Homs.

Makdissi studied at the National School of Administration (École Nationale d’Administration) in the French capital, Paris. He earned a master’s degree in diplomacy and international relations in 2009 from the University of Westminster, Britain, and subsequently obtained a doctorate in media studies from the American University of London.

Makdissi’s position is separated from the security, military, and political sphere, as it is a media position. However, he participated in the regime’s denial of several war crimes in Syria, including the Houla massacre, which he deemed on 27 May 2012 “a tsunami of lies against the Syrian state and Syrian government forces.”

Makdissi categorically denied the responsibility of the regime forces for the massacre in Houla on 25 May 2012 and accused armed groups of being the actual perpetrators.

Meanwhile, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria found in its report on the events of the Houla massacre, which was issued in the same year, that regime forces and “Shabiha” elements were responsible for the killings in Houla.

The Commission of Inquiry also found that the investigations conducted by the regime’s government did not meet international human rights standards. The government did not submit a final report on its own investigations, nor did it indicate a date to issue the said report.

The Commission of Inquiry considers that the regime’s government has failed to fulfill its legal obligation to investigate the Houla killings.

On the basis of the available evidence, the Commission concluded that the elements needed to determine a war crime of murder had been met in the case of the Houla killings.

In his capacity as spokesman for the regime, Makdissi also denied the Tremseh and al-Qubeir massacres. At another press conference, he confirmed that the regime did neither use nor intend to use chemical or biological weapons, stressing that such weapons were stored under the supervision of the regime’s forces and warning that “terrorist groups” might use a biological weapon in order to accuse the regime of committing the crime to later exert pressure on it.

Al-Assad has gained some momentum from the idea of “fighting terrorist groups on behalf of the world” in the West, especially with far-right parties, and has presented a “propaganda” that supports his stay in power to “fight terrorism.”

Dissident diplomat

In December 2012, Jihad Makdissi submitted his resignation and left Damascus for London.

After the transition of protests in Syria from peaceful to armed and the worsening of military operations between the parties to the conflict, he appeared in an interview with The New York Times, during which he said that “a diplomat should serve his/her country, and should not act as a lawyer who agrees to every presented case.”

“When things moved towards an armed conflict in Syria, without leaving room for politics, I refused to be a lawyer for one single party. The diplomat within me won”, he added.

Following his resignation, Makdissi opted to oppose the regime in his political activity by endorsing the establishment of a transitional governing body under UN Resolution No. 2254, which evokes several problematic issues, most notably the resolution’s failure to define al-Assad’s role during and after the transitional period.

He also joined the Cairo Platform, a Syrian opposition gathering formed in Egypt in 2014 that prioritizes achieving a political transition. However, according to the official bio on his Twitter account, Makdissi announced his retirement from politics and his current work in the field of risk management.

Criminal accountability is out of reach

According to what the former Syrian diplomat Danny al-Baaj had told Enab Baladi, the possibility of holding Jihad Makdissi criminally accountable is difficult, but he can be held politically accountable as “it is difficult to establish Makdissi’s legal certainty, and to prove his absolute knowledge that the crime was carried out by the regime. Such science simply does not exist”.

“At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, some had doubts about the existence of chemical weapons, and others were certain of their existence but had not any evidence to support it” because the regime was highly evasive in this precise matter and did not clearly admit to its possession of chemical weapons.

According to al-Baaj, when a human rights entity wishes to sue a person who is involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity, it bases its case on perceived certainties and tangible evidence, but “the real problem with Makdissi is that it is not possible to establish this link between certainty and knowledge and the role he played as a diplomat, or as a spokesperson for the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

However, it is certain that Makdissi will be one of the persons to be held accountable in case political accountability is ever established in Syria, as stated by al-Baaj. “In that case, he would be subject to a certain kind of accountability associated with the scrutiny of his political behavior. He could be fined or prevented from returning to diplomatic service”.

This refers to rediscussing the case of Islam Alloush, who will be held accountable in France for the crimes he committed, according to al-Baaj.

“Here, it is possible to bring a personal charge against Alloush,” based on the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, he added.

Political accountability is linked to the nature of the political transition. Its structure and effects differ from one country to another.

 

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