“SEE YOU IN COURT” - Spain to put Syrian Leaders on Trial?
Randall T. Oliver
After over 6 years of civil war, nearly 500,000 deaths, almost two million people wounded, and millions of displaced Syrians, the first criminal case accepted by a foreign court has appeared against Syrian President Assad’s regime. On Monday, a Spanish court announced an investigation into members of Syria’s security and intelligence community. The investigation, which will be looking into terrorism and forced disappearances by the regime, could lead to criminal charges against key figures in Assad’s regime, including Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, Director of the National Security Bureau Ali Mamlouk, and Head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate Jamil Hassan.
Why Spain? Why now?
In 2014, Russia and China vetoed an attempt to refer the crisis in Syria to the International Criminal Court, and victims have since turned to European courts. European courts have been conducting roughly 20 cases concerning the Syrian Civil War, but they involve mostly low-level participants. In 2013, Abdulmuemen Alhaj Hamdo, a truck driver in Syria, went missing. It is alleged that he was later tortured and executed. Abdulmuemen’s sister, Amal Hag Hamdo Anfalis, began searching through thousands of pictures smuggled out of Syria, many of which recorded alleged evidence of murder and torture. She, and Abdulmuemen’s widow, were later able to identify his body. (After finding his identical surgery scars on one of the pictured victims) Under Spain’s universal jurisdiction, Spain is able to try foreign cases that involve a Spanish victim. Amal is a Spanish citizen, and under the ruling by a Spanish judge, as the sister of Abdulmuemen, she too is considered a victim. Amal Hag Hamdo Anfalis and the photographer that smuggled the thousands of pictures from Syria, code-named Caesar, are due to testify on April 10.
What will the outcome be?
The Commission for International Justice and Accountability acknowledged that the chances of the Syrian officials actually being brought to trial are “slim,” but the Spanish court’s decision to accept the case serves a "significant symbolic importance" for victims in Syria.
However, Spain’s use of universal jurisdiction has been successful in the past. Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile, was once arrested under a Spanish international arrest warrant, and only time will tell if Spain’s use of universal jurisdiction will be successful in Syria’s case as well.