Trial Begins in Swedish Court for Assad Regime Officer Charged with War Crimes

Credit: (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP)

Muhammad Hamo, a former brigadier general and the highest-ranking Syrian military official to stand trial in Europe, appeared before a Stockholm court on Monday, facing allegations of war crimes during Syria’s devastating civil war.

Hamo, 65, who resides in Sweden, stands accused of “aiding and abetting” war crimes, potentially facing a life sentence if convicted. The proceedings mark a significant milestone in international efforts to hold accountable those implicated in atrocities committed during the protracted conflict in Syria, which has left more than half a million people dead and millions displaced.

The trial, set to last until late May, focuses on Hamo’s alleged role in the Syrian army’s actions during the period spanning January 1 to July 20, 2012. Prosecutor Karolina Wieslander outlined the charges against Hamo, asserting that he played a crucial part in facilitating the Syrian army’s warfare, which purportedly included indiscriminate attacks violating fundamental principles of caution, distinction, and proportionality.

During the court session, Hamo, dressed in a dark blue shirt, jeans, and sneakers, listened attentively as the charges were read out, occasionally jotting down notes. His defense attorney, Mari Kilman, asserted Hamo’s denial of criminal responsibility, arguing that his actions were within the context of military orders and that he did not harbor intent for indiscriminate warfare.

The trial is anticipated to feature testimonies from several plaintiffs, including individuals affected by attacks in Syrian cities and a British photographer injured in one such strike. Aida Samani, a senior legal advisor at Civil Rights Defenders, emphasized the significance of the trial, stating that it represents an opportunity for victims to seek justice in an independent court and highlights the longstanding issue of impunity for alleged perpetrators of war crimes.

Hamo’s case follows similar legal actions targeting high-ranking figures associated with the Assad regime. In March, Swiss prosecutors brought war crimes charges against Rifaat Al-Assad, an uncle of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. However, the likelihood of Rifaat Assad’s presence at the trial remains uncertain, as he recently returned to Syria after decades in exile.

Meanwhile, international arrest warrants have been issued for Bashar Assad and three other senior officials, including his brother Maher, over allegations of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes. In a landmark ruling in January 2022, a German court sentenced former Syrian colonel Anwar Raslan to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, marking a significant step by European courts towards accountability for atrocities committed during the Syrian conflict.


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