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Switzerland to try Assad's uncle for crimes against humanity

March 12, 2024 at 11:49 am

A member of the Alawite community pastes on a wall, in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli 06 December 2007, pictures of Syrian opposition leader Rifaat al-Assad (R) and his son Ribal. [RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP via Getty Images]

Switzerland’s Attorney General’s Office said today that it would put on trial Rifaat Al-Assad, an uncle of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, for war crimes and crimes against humanity dating back to his time as a military commander in 1982, Reuters reports.

The office said in a statement that Al-Assad is charged at the Swiss Federal Criminal Court with “ordering homicides, acts of torture, cruel treatments and illegal detentions” in February 1982 when he had charge of troops in the western city of Hama.

Known to critics as the “Butcher of Hama” for crushing an insurrection in the Syrian city, Al-Assad, a former vice president of the country, commanded troops accused of killing thousands of people to quell an Islamist uprising.

Al-Assad, who was not immediately available for comment, has previously denied responsibility for the Hama deaths.

According to the Swiss prosecutors’ indictment, the conflict between the Syrian armed forces and their Islamist opponents caused between 3,000 and 60,000 deaths in Hama. Most of these deaths were civilians.

Rifaat Al-Assad, 86, lived in exile, mostly in France, from the mid-1980s, after being accused of trying to topple his brother, then-President Hafez Al-Assad, Bashar’s father.

He returned to Syria in 2021, escaping jail in France, where he was found guilty of acquiring millions of euros of property using funds diverted from the Syrian state.

The Attorney General’s Office initiated war crimes proceedings against Al-Assad in December 2013 under the principle of universal jurisdiction and non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes.

Police established that Al-Assad was present in Swiss territory when the investigation was initiated. Several victims filed civil complaints within the office’s criminal proceedings.

Read: US House of Representatives passes Anti-Normalisation Act against Syria’s Assad regime