Swiss Prosecution Charges Rifaat Assad for War Crimes

Credit: (AFP)

 The Swiss Attorney General’s office has announced the referral of Rifaat Assad, the uncle of Syrian President Bashar Assad, to trial before the Federal Criminal Court. The charges against him pertain to violations of international law, particularly concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a statement issued earlier this week, the Swiss Attorney General’s office detailed the allegations against Rifaat Assad, accusing him of committing egregious acts during the Syrian conflict. The charges specifically relate to events that unfolded in February 1982, during which Rifaat Assad, then commander of the Defense Companies and military operations in the city of Hama, allegedly perpetrated crimes including murder, torture, cruel treatment, and illegal arrests.

The Swiss authorities assert that Rifaat Assad’s actions during the armed conflict between Syrian regime forces and the Fighting Vanguard organization led to the deaths of between three thousand and 60,000 people, predominantly civilians. The violence inflicted upon civilians in Hama ranged from summary executions to arbitrary detention and torture.

The decision to prosecute Rifaat Assad comes following a complaint filed by the Trial International organization in 2013. The Swiss Attorney General’s Office initiated criminal proceedings against him in December of the same year. Subsequently, in August 2023, the Swiss Federal Court issued an arrest warrant against Rifaat Assad.

The indictment against Rifaat Assad alleges that he ordered his forces to sweep through Hama, executing civilians and violating the laws of war, as outlined in Article 109 of the Military Criminal Law and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Rifaat Assad’s significant role in Syrian military and political affairs, including his position as Vice President of the Syrian Republic from 1984 to 1998, adds weight to the charges against him. His alleged involvement in the events of February 1982 in Hama, where he commanded brutal operations against civilians, has brought him under intense scrutiny from international legal authorities.

Rifaat Assad, who had been exiled by his brother Hafez Assad to Paris in the mid-eighties following a failed coup attempt, has since faced allegations of embezzlement and tax evasion. Despite living abroad for decades, he returned to Damascus in 2021 under strict conditions set by his nephew Bashar Assad.

The trial of Rifaat Assad before the Swiss Federal Criminal Court marks a significant development in the pursuit of justice for atrocities committed during the Syrian conflict. The Swiss authorities’ invocation of universal jurisdiction underscores the commitment to hold individuals accountable for grave violations of international law, regardless of their nationality or the location of the crimes.


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