Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Chemical Assad: An accused war criminal until further notice

Bodies of victims of a suspected chemical attack on Ghouta, Syria on Wednesday, August 21, 2013; Photo credit: AP/Shaam News Network

For the majority of Syrians, saying that Bashar Assad is a war criminal who perpetrated crimes against humanity and that his actions since March 2011 include a multitude of atrocities against Syrian civilians, is a matter of stating the obvious. However, there are still some misguided Syrians who continue to declare that such claims are simply a false narrative fabricated by anti-Assad propagandists driven by political bias or sectarian motives.

However, on June 26, 2024, the Paris Court of Appeal confirmed the validity of the arrest warrants issued for Bashar Assad, his brother Maher, and two senior military officials for their complicity in crimes against humanity including the chemical attacks on Ghouta and Douma in August 2013. Many human rights activists believe it is high time to revisit the whole Syrian narrative in light of this significant step forward in achieving justice for the victims and survivors of these attacks and holding unconscionable world leaders accountable for their crimes. 

the court’s ruling determined instead that officials who commit such atrocities – regardless of their rank – are not immune and that they cannot evade accountability

The ruling by the Paris Court of Appeal came after French anti-terrorism prosecutors asked the court last month to lift the arrest warrant for Assad on the grounds that he has absolute immunity as a serving head of state. Contrary to their claim that heads of state can act with impunity, the court’s ruling determined instead that officials who commit such atrocities – regardless of their rank – are not immune and that they cannot evade accountability.

As a follow-up to the first legal action that targets Bashar Assad himself in more than 13 years, Assad’s covert supporters need to realize that normalizing relations with his regime and working on its survival is a shameful act. Undoubtedly the French court’s legal action will mean nothing to Assad’s flagrant supporters such as Iran and Russia, as they are not fond of any form of global justice.

But Immunity should never be a carte blanche for dictators and self-proclaimed heads of state to commit crimes. The whole concept of immunity should be redefined and it must not be granted under any circumstances to those committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Normalizing relations with Assad from now on should come with a heavy price, at the very least a moral one

The French court’s historic verdict regarding Assad should set an international precedent that sends a message to world and regional powers who would have us believe otherwise. All of them know for sure the extent of Assad’s criminality, but as long as his presence serves their interests, they will continue to tolerate him and prop up his regime in the absence of dire consequences for doing so.

Normalizing relations with Assad from now on should come with a heavy price, at the very least a moral one. Shaking hands with this person and taking photos with him has to stop. Inviting him to conferences and summits should stop — at least until such a time as he can legally prove his innocence.

The Syrian people are not naïve enough to think that with this verdict they have won their battle for freedom. But they acknowledge that it is a huge step in the right direction and that this historic verdict sets a precedent Syrians can continue to build upon.

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