Syrians demand regime accountability for war crimes
By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo
Syrian activists are seeking the prosecution in Europe of members of the Syrian regime for war crimes committed in Syria during the war, experts told Diyaruna.
Several groups of Syrian activists, backed by Syrian and European lawyers, are focusing their attention on the issue of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria, Syrian lawyer Bashir al-Bassam told Diyaruna.
They are documenting these crimes in order to ensure the perpetrators -- many of whom are regime officers and soldiers who left Syria as part of the wave of Syrian refugees who fled to Europe -- are prosecuted, he said.
Some regime elements have already been pursued and brought to trial before European courts through the principle of "universal jurisdiction", he said.
This principle allows states or international organisations to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person, regardless of where the alleged crime was committed.
"Some human rights organisations took advantage of the fall of some areas into the hands of the Syrian opposition to document many of the orders issued by senior military commanders for arrest and torture," al-Bassam said.
These documents include names and incriminating evidence, he said, and "represent very valuable evidence materials that will be used when these criminals are prosecuted in international courts".
Activists also are engaged in efforts to document the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons on areas outside its control, into which several UN missions have conducted tests and investigations, he said.
Pursuing Syrian officials in Europe
Many parties have been involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including extremist groups like the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and Tahrir al-Sham, said Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah.
"The crimes range from mass execution to killing civilians and the use of internationally banned substances, kidnapping and other crimes punishable by international law," he told Diyaruna.
The issue of accountability and prosecution took a "remarkable twist when the activists began going after regime officers and soldiers who applied for asylum in European countries", al-Abdullah said.
They have been funneling information about the actions of these individuals to potential prosecutors from activists who are still in Syria, he said.
The prosecution of war criminals who still reside in Syria will be somewhat difficult under the current circumstances, however, said Wael al-Sharimi, professor of international criminal law at Cairo University.
It would be easier to issue international indictments against them in some European countries or through a special tribunal in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, he told Diyaruna.
Enforcing the verdicts will remain difficult with the regime still in power, he said, "as it will naturally protect its followers to protect itself".
A UN Human Rights Council committee has recorded more than 70,000 human rights violations since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011.