France has issued international arrest warrants for Syria’s president, his brother and two other senior officials over the use of banned chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, according to a judicial source and lawyers representing victims.
The arrest warrants charge Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher, military generals Ghassan Abbas and Bassam al-Hassan with complicity in crimes against humanity and complicity in war crimes, according to a judicial source quoted by the Reuters news agency on Wednesday and lawyers representing Syrian victims.
Maher al-Assad heads an elite Syrian military unit, the 4th Armoured Division, while the two military generals, Ghassan Abbas and Bassam al-Hassan, work with a Syrian research agency accused of developing chemical weapons, according to the rights group Civil Rights Defenders.
The warrants follow a criminal investigation into chemical attacks in the town of Douma and the district of Eastern Ghouta in August 2013, which killed more than 1,000 people.
It is the first international arrest warrant that has been issued for the Syrian head of state, whose forces responded to protests that began in 2011 with a brutal crackdown that UN experts have said amounts to war crimes.
These are also the first international arrest warrants that have been issued over the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, said Mazen Darwish, lawyer and founder of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), which filed the case in France.
France claims worldwide jurisdiction for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Syria denies using chemical weapons but a previous joint inquiry of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an April 2017 attack and has repeatedly used chlorine as a weapon.