On March 27, 2017, Judge Eloy Velasco of Spain’s national court (Audiencia Nacional) agreed to hear a case brought by a Spanish citizen against high-ranking officials in the Syrian government for alleged war crimes committed in the Syrian Civil War. The complaint was filed by a woman going by the name of Amal, who is a hairdresser in Madrid, on behalf of her brother Abdul, a 43-year old Syrian delivery van driver killed in Syria in 2013.
The complaint names nine high-ranking officials in the government of Bashar al-Assad, including Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, a former foreign minister; Ali Mamlouk, head of the National Security Bureau; Gen. Jamil Hassan, head of air force intelligence, as well as the senior officers in the prison in which Abdul was interred. Abdul had gone missing in 2013, and his whereabouts were unknown until photographs of his beaten, tortured corpse surfaced in 2015 as part of a release of a cache of over 50,000 photographs of brutality in the Syrian Civil War taken by a military photographer code-named Caesar.
Judge Velasco ruled that, under international law, relatives of deceased victims of crimes are themselves victims, and Amal’s Spanish citizenship gave the Spanish court the jurisdiction to hear the case. Spain has garnered an international reputation as a jurisdiction in which it is possible to seek justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed elsewhere.
The case will, according to lawyers with the legal advocacy group representing Amal, Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, “allow the courts to investigate the torture and execution of thousands of civilians” perpetrated by the Assad regime in military detention centers.
The lack of an international tribunal for prosecuting the crimes of the still-ongoing Syrian Civil War has forced victims to search for nations willing to claim jurisdiction in order to seek justice. In Germany, the German federal prosecutor has agreed to hear witness testimony in a case accusing six Syrian officials of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case was filed by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a German human rights organization, as well as two Syrian lawyers.
SOURCE: Nick Cumming-Bruce, High-Ranking Syrian Officials Could Face Reckoning in Landmark Spain Case, N.Y. Times, Mar. 28, 2017, at A9.