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France: 3 Syrian officials convicted of war crimes

May 25, 2024

The trial focused on the officials' role in the alleged 2013 arrest in Damascus of Mazen Dabbagh, a French-Syrian father, and his son Patrick, and their subsequent torture and killing.

Activists in Paris hold Syrian flags next to portraits of alleged victims of the Syrian regime
Syria's conflict since 2011 has killed more than half a million people and displaced millionsImage: Michel Euler/AP Photo/picture alliance

A French court sentenced three senior Syrian officials to life imprisonment after finding them guilty of war crimes. 

They are the senior-most Syrian officials to face trial for crimes against humanity in a European court.

The case involved the disappearance and death of Mazzen Dabbagh, a French-Syrian father, and his son Patrick. They were arrested by the Syrian Airforce Intelligence agents in Syria in 2013 during anti-government protests, which later turned into a civil war. They both died in custody.

"I feel very, very emotional. It was a verdict that I was waiting for. It's an historic trial, and one which will set a legal precedent for future cases," said Obeida Dabbagh, a relative of the victims.

Who are the officials?

The trial of the three officials took place in absentia and lasted four days. One of them, Ali Mamlouk, is a former head of the National Security Bureau. He still serves as a security adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The other two officials were Jamil Hassan, former director of the Air Force intelligence service, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations. 

The people in the court room applauded after the verdict. 

"It is a message of hope for all Syrian victims who are waiting for justice. It is a message that must be addressed to states so that they do not normalize their relations with the regime of Bashar al-Assad," said Clémence Bectarte, the Dabbagh family's lawyer.

However, France and Syria do not have an extradition treaty and the verdict appears to be largely symbolic. Warrants have been issued for their arrest since 2018 to no avail. 

Syria's conflict since 2011 has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions and ravaged Syria's economy and infrastructure. 

Trials into abuses in Syria have taken place elsewhere in Europe, notably in Germany. In those cases, the people prosecuted held lower ranks and were present at the hearings.

tg/sri (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)