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Syrian general acquitted of war crimes by Swedish court

June 20, 2024

The former senior officer had been accused of "aiding and abetting" war crimes during 2012. The court found the evidence presented was not sufficient to secure a conviction.

General view of the Stockholm District Court in Sweden
The Stockholm District Court acquitted a former Syrian brigadier general who who had been charged with war crimes in Syria's civil warImage: Magnur Lejhall/EPA

A court in Stockholm on Thursday acquitted a former general charged with war crimes during Syria's civil war.

Brigadier General Mohammed Hamo was accused of "aiding and abetting" war crimes in the first half of 2012.

Hamo had the highest rank of any Syrian military official to go on trial in Europe, although other countries have sought to press charges against more senior soldiers and officials.

Evidence presented deemed insufficient

The charges relate to attacks "on several towns or places in the area in and around the towns of Hama and Homs" in a period from January 1 to July 20, 2012.

The Stockholm district court said the prosecution had not proven that Hamo's division was involved in attacks or that he had played a role in providing weapons for attacks during the conflict.

"The main issues in the case are whether the 11th Division of the Syrian Army participated in indiscriminate attacks in certain areas and whether the defendant participated in arming the division in those attacks," judge Katarina Fabian wrote.

"According to the District Court, there is no evidence to clarify these issues. The evidence presented by the prosecution has therefore not been deemed sufficient to convict the defendant of a criminal offence," Fabian said.

Syria torture trial in Germany

'A tough case to investigate' — chief prosecutor

Chief prosecutor Karolina Wieslander said that it had been "a tough case to investigate," saying, that considering the country was still
at war, it made it "hard to gather evidence."

"It is positive that a court of law has ruled that what the Syrian government did was war crimes," she told The Associated Press, adding
they had not decided yet whether to appeal.

Aida Samani who is senior legal advisor at rights group Civil Rights Defenders — which has been monitoring the trial — emphasized the importance of the trial.

"What is noteworthy about this case is that this is the first trial concerning the Syrian military's warfare -- that is, how the warfare was carried out."

She added that no European court had previously dealt with this issue and the impact on civilian lives and infrastructure.

"It is likely disappointing for victims and those affected by these war crimes," Samani said of the verdict.

What is known about Hamo

According to news agencies, in June 2012, Hamo was transfered to northern Syria, and the following month he absconded from the army and fled to Turkey. There, he joined a group that was fighting against the Syrian regime.

He went on to travel to Sweden in 2015, where he sought and was granted asylum.

Sweden's Migration Board however informed the government of Hamos' previous life in the military as  "a senior officer within the framework of an army that was systematically considered to have committed violations of human rights."

Hamo was living in central Sweden when he was arrested on December 7, 2021.

Syria's civil war

Syria's civil war began with peaceful protests in 2011, which were met with violence by the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad, unleashing a conflict that has dragged on for over a decade.

Regime forces were also locked in vicious fighting with the so-called Islamic State which had established its de-facto capital in the northern city of Raqqa.

More than half a million people are estimated to have been killed in the conflict while millions have been displaced.

Syria torture trial in Germany

kb/lo (AFP, AP)