Paris, Nov 16: The French government has issued an arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the war-torn nation, a media report said citing a judicial source.
This is the first time that a nation has issued an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity for a sitting head of state in another country.
The source told CNN that two investigative judges on Tuesday issued four warrants against the President, his brother Maher al-Assad, and two other senior officials, for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Syrian human rights lawyer and a founder of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, Anwar al-Bunni told CNN on Wednesday that the decision was “unprecedented.” An Interpol ‘Red Notice’ is expected to follow, Michael Chammas, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, told CNN.
A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest someone pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action, according to Interpol. “All Interpol member states should then comply with the arrest warrant,” Chammas added.
The legal case was brought forward by the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Syrian Archive in March 2021 “over the use of banned chemical weapons against civilians in the town of Douma and the district of Eastern Ghouta in August 2013, in attacks which killed more than 1,000 people”, the plaintiffs said in a statement Wednesday.
The Syrian government was accused of using poison gas in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, then a rebel stronghold that the regime had been desperately trying to take back for more than a year. It in turn accused opposition forces of carrying out the attacks themselves.
Despite being accused of comitting war crimes, the Syrian government has long maintained that its strikes only target "terrorists".