NGOs demand France investigates Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attacks

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Three NGOs filed a complaint in a Paris court on Tuesday against the Syrian regime of President Bashar al Assad for “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity”.

The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and Syrian Archive are seeking a French criminal investigation into the August 2013 chemical weapons attacks on Douma and Eastern Ghouta.

“The complaint points to the Syrian government’s alleged responsibility in carrying out the attacks, which killed more than a thousand people, including many children. These attacks constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” they said in a joint statement.

They added that the complaint is based on “first-hand testimonies from numerous victims”, documentary evidence including pictures and videos and a “thorough analysis of the Syrian military chain of command”.

“Holding the perpetrators to these crimes in Syria accountable would not only provide a measure of justice owed to their victims, but also ensure greater global peace and security,” SCM president Mazen Darwish said.

“That’s why, in addition to investigating and prosecuting these crimes when they have jurisdiction, countries must cooperate to also create a special international court to try these crimes,” he added.

The three NGOs stressed that the “principle of extraterritorial jurisdiction” authorises French courts to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed on foreign soil against foreign nationals.

They have already filed a similar complaint in October 2020 in Germany regarding the 2013 and 2017 sarin attacks in Eastern Ghouta and Khan Shaykhun and urged French and German authorities to pool resources and carry out joint investigations.

Last month, a German court convicted a former member of Bashar al Assad’s secret police of accessory to crimes against humanity for participating in the arrest and incarceration in a secret detention centre of dozens of protestors in Douma in late 2011.

It was the first time a court outside Syria ruled on a case alleging Syrian government officials had committed crimes against humanity. Germany has “universal jurisdiction” laws that enable it to investigate serious crimes under international law, irrespective of where they were committed and regardless of the suspects or victims’ nationalities.