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Assad’s uncle facing trial for war crimes in Switzerland

September 25, 2017 at 6:10 pm

An international legal NGO has raised concerns over delays in the case against Rifaat Al-Assad, the uncle of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who is facing criminal proceedings in Switzerland for war crimes.

A collective of lawyers confirmed the criminal proceedings against the Swiss resident Rifaat, who was in command of the brigade that carried out the massacres of several thousand people at Palmyra and in Hama in 1982; up to 40,000 are thought to have been killed by Syrian regime forces.

TRIAL International “a non-governmental organisation fighting impunity for international crimes and supporting victims in their quest for justice” filed the criminal complaint in Switzerland in 2013. “A solid case” was put together against the former commander, but four years on, the NGO said that it was “worried the case is at a stalemate, despite the significant amount of evidence at hand”.

This morning TRIAL International released a statement saying that “the complainants’ lawyers have publicly challenged the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and denounced a denial of justice for their clients – who are all victims of the Syrian regime’s barbarity”.

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In the four years since the trail was opened by the OAG, “TRIAL International conducted investigative work in eight countries and provided the OAG with dozens of testimonies and pieces of evidence,” read the statement. “By skimming through countless archives, the NGO was able to find documents from secret services and embassies of various countries. The organisation has also tracked down former Syrian combatants willing to testify”.

“We have accumulated damning evidence showing Rifaat Al-Assad’s responsibility in the massacres of Tadmor and Hama,” said Benedict de Moerloose, the lawyer in charge of investigations at TRIAL International. “The evidence also points at the unbounded brutality of his troops and his wish to purely and simply root out the opposition.”

The organisation called on Switzerland to “show courage”.

The victims who have filed their complaint in Switzerland are bitterly disappointed today. Their lawyers denounce grave shortcomings in the procedure, such as the cancellation of hearings, the refusal to arrest or hear the suspect (…) and even attempts to bury the case altogether.

It pointed out that under the principle of universal jurisdiction “Switzerland has an obligation to prosecute the authors of war crimes present on its territory – regardless of where the crimes were committed and the nationality of the perpetrators.”

“The sluggishness of the OAG goes against Switzerland’s international commitments – an irony given it is the depositary of the Geneva Convention,” deplores Philip Grant, director of TRIAL International. “Besides, it sends a dangerous message to today’s belligerents in Syria. It must be absolutely clear to them that they are not beyond the reach of justice.”