The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Criminal complaint submitted to German court over sarin gas attacks in Syria

Three NGOs file evidence to war crimes unit against Assad regime over use of chemical weapons

A group of NGOs has submitted a criminal complaint to the German courts over sarin gas attacks in Syria, a legal milestone which marks the first step on the long road to holding Bashar al-Assad’s regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons.

The Justice Initiative, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and the Syrian Archive submitted the filing and dossier of evidence to the German federal public prosecutor in Karlsruhe on behalf of victims on Monday.

The joint two-year-long investigation focuses on two of the worst chemical weapons attacks in the decade-old war: the use of sarin gas on the Damascus suburb of al-Ghouta in 2013, which killed more than 1,500 people, and the northwest village of Khan Sheikhun in 2017, which killed around 100.

The filing with the specialised international war crimes unit in Karlsruhe represents the most comprehensive examination of the two attacks to date, compiled from witnesses now living in Germany who are available to testify, interviews and documents provided by regime defectors, and UN and open source investigative material.

New evidence in the dossier identifies Syrian armed forces and government officials up the chain of command responsible for carrying out the attacks. It is hoped the brief will eventually secure arrests and prosecutions.

“The people of Syria have been repeatedly failed by international mechanisms and institutions which have not stopped the bloodshed or held criminals in Bashar al-Assad’s regime responsible for their actions,” said Mazen Darwish, the president of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, who himself was detained and tortured in a Syrian government prison for three years.

“This is a significant new step which shows the Syrian people refuse to accept these failures. Cases brought in European courts are an alternative tool in our search for justice … there can be no peace without justice.”

Civilian suffering at the hands of multiple parties in Syria’s long conflict has been well-documented by UN investigators and independent human rights groups, but to date both governments and armed parties have mostly escaped punishment.

There has been no concerted international effort to try Syrian regime officials for crimes such as torture, unlawful detention and the use of illegal weaponry including barrel bombs and chlorine and sarin gas because Syria is not a party to the treaty that established the international criminal court (ICC).

Russia and China have repeatedly used their veto as permanent members of the UN security council to delay or block investigations or set up a special ICC tribunal for Syria.

Syria-related filings in several European countries under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of serious crimes in national courts even if they happened elsewhere, are slowly starting to challenge the sense of impunity surrounding atrocities committed during the Syrian conflict.

Earlier this year, the first trial of two individuals for war crimes relating to state torture in Syria began in the German town of Koblenz.

“We are confident that the new complaint and dossier of evidence submitted on Monday will support the German prosecutors’ ongoing investigation,” said Steve Kostas, a senior legal officer at the Justice Initiative.

“Universal jurisdiction is an essential tool for building cases on the Syrian file. Different countries need to pool their resources and work together for effective investigations and prosecutions regarding these severe crimes against humanity.”

Throughout Syria’s war, the regime has used chemical weapons as part of a broader pattern of deliberate and widespread attacks against civilians in opposition-held areas. Russian disinformation campaigns have saught to portray such attacks as staged despite the overwhelming body of evidence collected by the UN and independent investigators.

Chemical weapons watchdog the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in July condemned the use of banned sarin and chlorine munitions by the Syrian government and accused Damascus of storing a covert supply of sarin gas.

The Syrian government has not yet complied with the latest OPCW demand to declare the remainder of its chemical weapons stockpile, which could lead to a collective response from member states later this year over Syria’s violation of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Source: Criminal complaint submitted to German court over sarin gas attacks in Syria | World news | The Guardian