French Court Sentences Three Syrian Officials to Life in Prison for War Crimes

Credit: (FIDH)

 In a landmark ruling, a French court sentenced three senior officials of the Assad regime to life imprisonment in absentia on Friday for complicity in crimes against humanity, in charges brought before the Paris court in April of last year. The verdict, delivered by the Paris Criminal Court, convicted Major General Ali Mamlouk, former head of the National Security Bureau; Jamil Hassan, former head of Air Force Intelligence; and Abdul-Salam Mahmoud, former head of the Air Force Intelligence Investigative Branch.

The case centers on the disappearance and deaths of Mazen al-Dabbagh and his son, Patrick, French-Syrian nationals arrested by Syrian Air Force Intelligence in Damascus in November 2013. Their families were informed in 2018 that the pair had died in prison. Hassan and Mamlouk also face charges filed by the FBI in connection with the torture and murder of American citizen and aid worker Layla Shweikani in 2016.

The trial, hailed as historic by activists and observers, concluded after four days of hearings. Witnesses and experts, including François Burgat, a French expert, and Garance Le Caisne, author of “Operation Caesar,” testified about the systematic torture and abuse perpetrated by the Assad regime.

Obaida al-Dabbagh, Mazen’s brother and Patrick’s uncle, expressed his relief and emotion following the verdict. “It was a verdict that I was waiting for. It’s a historic trial, and one which will set a legal precedent for future cases,” he told Reuters.

Despite the significance of the ruling, some have downplayed its impact due to the trial being held in absentia and the officials remaining outside French jurisdiction. However, Bassam al-Ahmad, executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), emphasized the importance of the verdict. He noted that it sends a clear message that violations will not be forgotten, and victims will continue to seek justice.

“This verdict is a step to highlight the violations committed by the regime against thousands of detainees,” al-Ahmad told Enab Baladi. “Although the trial was held in absentia, it is considered one of the historic trials for achieving justice.”

Testimonies from former detainees, family members of the victims, and human rights experts detailed the torture practices under Assad’s regime. Ten photographs from the Caesar file, showing emaciated and tortured detainees, were presented as evidence.

Mazen Darwish, director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, testified about his own experiences of detention and torture. In his closing remarks, he stressed the trial’s role in ending impunity and preventing future violence.

The public prosecutor called for maintaining the arrest warrants issued in 2018 against Mamlouk, Hassan, and Mahmoud. Although these warrants initially had little effect due to legal complexities, the court’s recent decision reinforces the international community’s commitment to holding Syrian officials accountable for war crimes.

The Assad regime, which declined to comment, along with its ally Russia, has consistently denied accusations of systematic torture and mass killings during the country’s 13-year civil war, which has claimed over half a million lives since 2011.

This verdict marks the first time senior Syrian officials have been tried and convicted in France for their roles in the atrocities committed during the ongoing conflict. Human rights advocates view it as a significant step toward justice for the victims of the Assad regime.


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