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French Court of Appeal Validates Historic Arrest Warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: A Legal Milestone and Important Victory for Survivors

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Paris, 26 June 2024

Today, the Paris Court of Appeal affirmed the validity of the arrest warrant issued against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, upholding it alongside warrants also issued for his brother Maher al-Assad, and two senior Syrian military officials for their alleged responsibility in the chemical attacks in Ghouta and Douma in August 2013.

This decision marks a significant step forward for survivors and victims of these chemical weapons attacks and for the field of international justice. It underscores that officials who perpetrate such atrocities—regardless of their rank—cannot shield themselves with immunity to evade accountability.

The arrest warrants were initially issued by two investigating judges on 14 November 2023. On 22 December 2023, the French National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) requested the nullity of the warrant against Bashar al-Assad, citing head of state immunity, which traditionally protects sitting heads of state from foreign jurisdiction. However, the PNAT underlined the factual findings regarding Assad’s role in the chemical attacks and did not dispute the warrants against other Syrian officials, including Maher al-Assad.

On 15 May 2024, the Paris Court of Appeal of heard arguments from the General Prosecutor and lawyers representing victims and NGOs, civil parties in the case, on the legality of the arrest warrant against Bashar al-Assad. The Court’s decision unequivocally establishes that accountability for international crimes supersedes any claims of immunity, including by a sitting head of state.

The Court of Appeal’s decision carries profound implications for international justice and the protection of human rights. It sends a clear message that the international community cannot tolerate impunity for egregious violations such as the use of chemical weapons.

For the victims and survivors of the Eastern Ghouta and Douma chemical attacks, the arrest warrants represent a long-overdue acknowledgment of the severity of the crimes committed against them and a crucial step towards justice.

Mazen Darwish, Founder and General Director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM): “We commend the Court of Appeal in Paris for upholding the arrest warrants issued against Bashar al-Assad. This historic decision marks a crucial step towards justice for the victims of chemical attacks. It sends a clear message that impunity for serious crimes will not be tolerated, and the era when immunity could serve as a shield for impunity has come to an end.”

Hadi al-Khatib, Founder and Managing Director of Mnemonic and Syrian Archive: “Having seen the evidence, no judge or prosecutor in France has questioned Bashar Al-Assad’s role in the chemical attacks in Ghouta and Douma in August 2013. For the victims, for the survivors, for the Syrian people, and for others around the world similarly affected: it must be possible to seek accountability in court for such atrocities, from all who are proved responsible.”

Steve Kostas, senior lawyer at Open Society Justice Initiative: “This decision makes clear that international rules on immunity cannot be synonymous with impunity, particularly for the most serious international crimes. The road to justice in this case is long and difficult, but with today’s result we have seen the law rightly respond to the victim’s resolve to secure accountability. Their demand is straightforward: that all perpetrators of chemical attacks against the Syrian people are investigated and prosecuted. The Paris Court of Appeal decision now allows investigation of even the highest ranking official. With each step forward in this case, we are working towards a future where no one, anywhere, of any rank, is above the law.”

Aida Samani, Senior Legal Adviser at Civil Rights Defenders: “This is a landmark verdict, in which the Court of Appeal of Paris has made an important contribution to revoke the status quo on immunities. The verdict will hopefully lead the international community one step closer to a world order where heads of state can no longer commit core international crimes with impunity.


On 1 March 2021, survivors of chemical weapons attacks, along with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), supported by Syrian Archive and the Open Society Justice Initiative, filed a criminal complaint regarding the August 2013 chemical weapons attacks on Douma and Eastern Ghouta. , Filed as a civil party application before investigating judges of the Paris Judicial Court, this complaint alleged that these attacks constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity. The NGOs, joined by Civil Rights Defenders as a civil party, provided substantial evidence, including survivor testimonies, analysis of chains of command, and information on Syrian officials allegedly responsible for the attacks.

The chemical attacks on Eastern Ghouta on 21 August 2013, which employed the deadly nerve agent sarin, resulted in significant civilian casualties and were widely condemned by the international community. These attacks, along with previous ones on Douma and Adra, were part of a systematic campaign against civilians in opposition-held areas.

In response to the Ghouta attacks, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2118, which mandated the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and called for all perpetrators to be held accountable. Despite this, subsequent attacks have demonstrated Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons and no international court has exercised jurisdiction over the perpetrators, leading victims and NGOs to turn to national authorities to hold perpetrators accountable.

French law allows investigation and prosecution of these international crimes, notwithstanding they were committed in Syria. On 14 November 2023, two investigating judges of the Paris Judicial Court issued the arrest warrants, following an extensive investigation. On December 22, 2023, the French Prosecutor contested Assad’s warrant, citing head of state immunity, but did not dispute findings on his role in the chemical attacks nor the warrants against other Syrian officials, including Bashar’s brother Maher.

On 15 May 2024, the Paris Court of Appeal heard the arguments of the General Prosecutor and the civil party lawyers Jeanne Sulzer, Clémence Witt, and Clémence Bectarte, representing individual victims and NGOs - on the legality of the warrant against Bashar al-Assad in the context of head of state immunity.

For further information, please contact:

SCM: info@scm.ngo

Mnemonic/Syrian Archive: info@syrianarchive.org

Open Society Justice Initiative: media@opensocietyfoundations.org

Civil Rights Defenders: press@crd.org


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