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France Court’s Decision to Uphold Arrest Warrant for Syria’s Assad Affirms that No One is Beyond Prosecution: PHR

The Paris Appeals Court’s decision to uphold the international arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for his role in the August 2013 chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 people and injured thousands more in the Damascus suburb Ghouta, affirms that no one is immune from prosecution for egregious war crimes and crimes against humanity, said Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today. 

The court held that Assad’s position as head of state did not offer him immunity from prosecution for the use of chemical weapons.

“Assad’s government has perpetrated numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity. These include unlawful attacks on protected civilian sites such as health care facilities, enforced disappearances of civilians and health care providers, and the besiegement of Syrian cities. Until now, these crimes have gone unpunished,” said Houssam al-Nahhas, MD, MPH, PHR Middle East and North Africa researcher. “The court’s decision today sends a clear message that perpetrators of gross human rights violations will not remain immune to the pursuit of justice.” 

In November 2023, an international arrest warrant was issued for Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad, and two generals for their alleged complicity in the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Ghouta in southern Syria. Last month, French anti-terrorism prosecutors challenged the warrant for Assad, citing the legal immunity typically afforded to a serving head of state. However, the court yesterday ruled that the arrest warrant was valid and should remain in effect. 

French judicial authorities are currently investigating the August 2013 attack, supported by Syrian and international civil society organizations, and survivors. If successful, it would mark the first instance of Assad being held accountable for crimes committed in Syria under his leadership. 

“The effort to file this case and present strong evidence for prosecuting those involved in the attacks is remarkable. Despite the carnage he has overseen in Syria for more than a decade, Assad remains at large and continues to flout international law. However, this case offers a glimmer of hope to survivors and the families of those who perished in the horrific Ghouta attack,” said al-Nahhas.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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