France begins first war crimes trial of Syrian officials

Trial of three Syrian officials for their complicity in crimes against humanity. Paris, France, May 21, 2024

Trial of three Syrian officials for their complicity in crimes against humanity. Paris, France, May 21, 2024

France has opened its first trial against officials of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government with three senior security officers tried in absentia for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes, Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday.

The Paris Criminal Court on Tuesday heard cases against officials for their alleged role in the deaths of two French-Syrian men, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, who were arrested in the Syrian capital, Damascus, in 2013.

Ali Mamlouk, the former head of Syria's National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, the former director of the Air Force's intelligence service, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, the former head of investigations for the service in Damascus, are the subject of international arrest warrants and will are judged in absentia.

"For the first time, French courts will deal with the crimes of the Syrian authorities and try the most senior members of the authorities to be prosecuted since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011," announced the International Federation for Human Rights ( FIDH).

More than half a million people have been killed in the war, which has displaced millions more and destroyed Syria's economy and infrastructure.

Last January, a German court sentenced Anar Raslan, a former Syrian colonel, to life in prison for crimes against humanity.

The trial in France results from a seven-year investigation by a French war crimes judicial unit.

At the time of his arrest, Patrick Dabbagh was a 20-year-old arts and humanities student at Damascus University. His father, Mazzen, was senior educational adviser at the French school in Damascus. Both were arrested in November 2013 by men claiming to belong to the intelligence service of the Syrian Air Force.

"Witness testimony confirms that Mazzen and Patrick were taken to a detention center at the Mezzeh military airport, which is run by the intelligence of the Syrian Air Force and known for the use of brutal torture," the FIDH statement said, stressing that the pair were not involved in protests against al-Assad. They were declared dead in 2018. The family was officially notified that Patrick died on 21 January 2014 and his father on 25 November 2017.