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France Begins Historic War Crimes Trial of Syria's Officials

By: ATN News


Paris: In a landmark legal proceeding, the Paris Criminal Court has commenced the first trial in France against high-ranking officials from the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The trial, which began on Tuesday, involves three top security officers who are being tried in absentia for their complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The case centers on the deaths of Mazzen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, French-Syrian nationals who were arrested in Damascus in 2013. The defendants—Ali Mamlouk, former head of the National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, former director of the Air Force Intelligence Service, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations for the Air Force Intelligence in Damascus—face international arrest warrants but will not be present at the hearings.


"This trial marks the first time French courts will address the atrocities committed by Syrian authorities, targeting the most senior members of the regime prosecuted since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011," stated the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).


The Syrian conflict, which began after the Assad regime's violent suppression of peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011, has resulted in over half a million deaths, the displacement of millions, and severe damage to Syria’s economy and infrastructure. While similar trials have been conducted in Germany, they involved lower-ranking officials who attended their trials.


Following a seven-year investigation by the French judicial war crimes unit, this trial has been heralded as a significant step in holding Syrian officials accountable. Clemence Bectarte, a lawyer representing the Dabbagh family and the FIDH, described the trial as "the culmination of a long legal battle."


Patrick Dabbagh, a 20-year-old arts and humanities student at the University of Damascus, and his father Mazzen, a senior education adviser at the French school in Damascus, were arrested in November 2013 by individuals claiming affiliation with the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service. According to witness testimony, the pair were detained at Mezzeh military airport, a facility infamous for its brutal torture practices. FIDH emphasized that neither Mazzen nor Patrick were involved in protests against the Assad regime.


The Dabbaghs were officially declared dead in 2018, with Patrick reportedly dying on January 21, 2014, and Mazzen on November 25, 2017. In 2016, Mazzen’s wife and daughter were evicted from their home in Damascus, which was requisitioned, acts that the prosecution contends may constitute war crimes, extortion, and concealment of extortion.


Investigating judges concluded that the Dabbaghs "suffered torture of such intensity that they died," a fate shared by thousands of detainees under the Air Force Intelligence. French investigators and the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) collected testimonies detailing the torture methods employed at Mezzeh prison, including electric shocks and sexual violence.


During the trial, researcher Ziad Majed described the Syrian prison system as the "backbone of the regime." He expressed concerns that international moves to normalize relations with the Assad regime could promote "impunity," potentially enabling continued crimes in the region.


Patrick Baudouin, another representative of the FIDH, asserted that substantial evidence points to "a system of torture, a system of ill-treatment and inhuman treatment and disappearances" in Syria.


The trial, seen as a pivotal moment in the fight against impunity for war crimes, is expected to set a precedent for future legal actions against perpetrators of atrocities in Syria and beyond.

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