French judges have issued international arrest warrants against Syrian President Bashar Assad and other senior officials in his government on war crimes charges stemming from alleged chemical weapons attacks in August 2013.
The warrants accuse Assad, his brother Maher Assad, and two Syrian generals of complicity in crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in attacks that killed more than 1,000 civilians in the rebel-held areas of Douma and Eastern Ghouta during a bloody civil war, according to reports on Wednesday by Reuters and other media outlets. Paris, formerly Syria’s colonial ruler, claims to have worldwide jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Wednesday’s media reports cited an unidentified judicial source. A French court has been investigating the 2013 attacks since 2021, and its warrants mark the first international charges over the incidents. The probe came in response to a criminal complaint lodged by the Syrian Center for Media Freedom and Expression (SCM) and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), an operation created by leftist billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
SCM President Mazen Darwish called the warrants “a new victory for the victims, their families, and the survivors,” as well as “a step on the path to justice and sustainable peace in Syria.” Assad has repeatedly denied Western accusations that he used sarin gas and other chemical weapons on his own people.
The administration of then-US President Barack Obama tried to use the 2013 attacks to justify a military intervention in Syria, only to be tripped up when Secretary of State John Kerry was pressed by a reporter on how Damascus could avoid such a response. He replied that Assad would have to turn over all of his chemical weapons and allow unfettered international inspections, which wouldn’t happen. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov backed the demand, and the Syrian government quickly agreed.
No such solutions were offered when the Syrian government was again accused of chemical weapons attacks in 2017 and 2018. The US launched missile strikes against Syrian government targets in response. French and UK forces participated in the latter strikes. Whistleblowers later alleged that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) doctored a report that was used after the fact to justify the West’s 2018 missile attacks.
Assad’s regime has been embroiled in a civil war with insurgents backed by the US and other foreign governments since 2011. The government has regained control of most rebel-held areas, thanks largely to help from Russian and Iranian forces. US troops have illegally occupied oil-rich areas of northeastern Syria since 2014.