Rifaat al-Assad to face trial in Switzerland for war crimes

A photo of Bashar al-Assad's family circulated by activists in 2023 (Facebook)

A photo of Bashar al-Assad's family circulated by activists in 2023 (Facebook)


The Swiss Attorney General’s office has announced the referral of the Syrian president’s uncle, Rifaat al-Assad, to trial.

The office issued a statement today, Tuesday, March 12, calling for al-Assad’s trial before the Federal Criminal Court, on charges of committing war crimes.

The statement accused Rifaat al-Assad of committing crimes of murder, torture, cruel treatment, and illegal arrests in Syria, in February 1982.

It noted that at the time, Rifaat was the commander of the Defence Companies and the military operations in the city of Hama.

The brother of Hafez al-Assad is accused of committing the crimes and charges directed against him during the battles that took place between the Syrian regime forces and the Fighting Vanguard organization.

According to the statement, the armed conflict between the two parties resulted in the death of between three thousand and 60,000 people, the majority of whom were civilians.

The forces entered the city, located in central Syria, in February 1982, and civilians fell victim to various violations ranging from summary execution to detention and torture.

The statement clarified that the Trial International organization filed a complaint in 2013, and the Attorney General’s Office began criminal proceedings against Rifaat al-Assad in December.

The organization announced in August 2023, a decision by the Swiss Federal Court to arrest al-Assad.

The organization called on the Swiss authorities to “quickly bring an indictment against the man nicknamed the butcher of Hama, who is 85 years old, and to bring him to trial.”

In addition to leading the Defence Companies, Rifaat al-Assad held the position of Vice President of the Syrian Republic between 1984 and 1998.

Rifaat al-Assad ordered his forces to sweep the city of Hama and execute its inhabitants and violated the laws of war, according to “Article 109” (paragraph 1), of the Military Criminal Law, in addition to “Article 3”, common to the Geneva Conventions.

The Swiss Federal Criminal Court (FCC) and the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) issued an international arrest warrant against Rifaat al-Assad for his role in the “serious war crimes” committed in the city of Hama in February 1982.

Who is Rifaat al-Assad?

Rifaat al-Assad was born in Qardaha on August 22, 1937, with a Ph.D. in history from the University of Damascus, and he is the younger brother of Hafez al-Assad.

In 1963, Rifaat was among the officers who graduated from the military academy and after graduation, he participated in the coup of February 23, 1966, and joined in 1969 a command course for armored and infantry guards, which qualified him to lead military units and brigades in the army.

Rifaat played a major role in military and political life in Syria since his brother Hafez took executive power in 1970. He was seen as his brother’s successor in rule, but the sibling rivalry did not lead to this scenario, and exile was the choice.

Rifaat was exiled by his brother to Paris in the mid-eighties after he attempted a coup during his illness, according to Firas Tlass, the son of former Defence Minister Mustafa Tlass.

Tlass said during an interview on November 4, 2019, with Russia Today channel, that Rifaat gathered the officers during Hafez al-Assad’s illness and called them to unite because Hafez’s health was not suitable, and Rifaat’s group began to spread his pictures widely in the streets, in addition to setting up barriers at the entrances to Damascus.

Hafez al-Assad contacted Defence Minister Mustafa Tlass and told him that Rifaat wanted to take control of Damascus, and asked him to take action, which led to the formation of a war council and the termination of Rifaat’s coup, according to Tlass.

Since then, Rifaat al-Assad has settled in Paris until he returned to Damascus in 2021, enjoying funds he is accused of having transferred from the contents of the Central Bank of Syria’s coffers to begin inflating his wealth, followed by allegations against him of tax evasion and embezzlement of public funds, which led in March 2017, to a decision to confiscate his real estate properties in France.

His assets in Paris include two palaces, one measuring three thousand square meters, and a horse farm, as well as a palace near the French capital, in addition to 7300 square meters in Lyon.

His wealth in France is estimated at approximately 90 million euros, through companies with some of their headquarters located in Luxembourg. In March 2018, the French-Spanish customs also seized Rifaat al-Assad’s properties on Spanish land.

His assets there amount to 600 million euros, represented in 503 establishments, including restaurants, hotels, and luxury possessions, he owned in the city of Marbella.

In 2023, activists circulated via social media pictures bringing together the President of the regime, Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma, and his brother Maher, and their children, in addition to Rifaat al-Assad, with a picture of Hafez al-Assad behind them, said to be in Syria.


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