France Begins First War Crimes Trial of Syrian Officials

France is set to commence its first war crimes trial against Syrian officials on Tuesday. Three high-ranking security officers from Bashar al-Assad’s regime will be tried in absentia for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes, specifically related to the deaths of two French-Syrian men, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, who were arrested in Damascus in 2013. This trial marks a significant moment as it is the first time French courts will address crimes committed by the Syrian authorities, targeting the most senior officials prosecuted since the Syrian revolution began in 2011.

The conflict in Syria, which erupted after the government’s repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011, has resulted in over half a million deaths, widespread displacement, and severe damage to the country‚Äôs economy and infrastructure. While similar trials have occurred in other European countries, notably Germany, those cases involved lower-ranking officials who were present at the hearings. The officials being tried in France include 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 service in Damascus. All three are subject to international arrest warrants.

The trial, expected to last four days and be filmed, will delve into the torture and subsequent deaths of the Dabbagh men. Patrick Dabbagh, a 20-year-old university student, and his father Mazzen, a senior education adviser at the French high school in Damascus, were arrested by officers from the Syrian Air Force intelligence service in November 2013. Witnesses reported that the two were taken to a detention center known for brutal torture practices. They were declared dead in 2018, with official notifications stating Patrick died in January 2014 and Mazzen in November 2017. French investigators, along with the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), collected extensive evidence of torture and mistreatment at the Mezzeh prison from numerous witnesses, including former detainees.

Lawyer Clemence Bectarte, representing the Dabbagh family and the International Federation for Human Rights, emphasized that the trial serves as a reminder that relations with the Assad regime should not be normalized, highlighting that the regime’s crimes continue to this day.

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