Senior Syrian officials on trial in France for war crimes

France  Michel Euler/AP
© Michel Euler/AP

Three Syrian officials go on trial Tuesday in a Paris court for crimes linked to the disappearance and death of two French-Syrian men—the first trial of high-ranking officials of the Syrian regime over war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the country's civil war.

Ali Mamlouk, former head of the National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, former director of the Air Force intelligence service, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations for the service, will be tried in absentia at the Paris Criminal Court.

All subject to international arrest warrants, they are accused of being involved in the disappearance and death of Mazen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, who were arrested in Syria by Airforce Intelligence agents in November 2013 and later died in custody.

Mamlouk serves as a security adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and will be the first serving Syrian official will go on trial for alleged war crimes.

Arrest and death

When they were arrested in November 2013, Patrick Dabbagh was an arts and humanities student at the University of Damascus, and his father, Mazzen, worked as a senior education adviser at the French high school in Damascus.

Five years later Syrian authorities issued death certificates, stating that Patrick died on 21 January 2014, and Mazzen died on 25 November 2017, without specifying the cause of death.

In documents provided to the court, investigating judges said that it was "sufficiently established" that the two men "like thousands of detainees of the Air Force intelligence suffered torture of such intensity that they died".

Historic trial

Syria's government and Assad have rejected accusations that they have committed mass killings and torture in the war that has left hundreds of thousands dead since 2011.

Members of the government are not prosecuted in Syria, where critics say the courts serve the president's interests.

Trials of Syrians have been held in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, but the French trial is the first time high-ranking officials close to Assad will go on trial.

The trial is scheduled to last four days.
None of the accused will be present, but the Dabbagh family and rights campaigners associated with the case say it will support future cases, and give hope for the families of more than 100,000 people who have disappeared in Syria since the start of the conflict.

(with newswires)