Syria/Dabbagh case – French justice orders the trial of Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan and Abdel Salam Mahmoud

nternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH)

Paris – 4 April 2023. In a historic decision rendered on 29 March 2023, the investigating judges of the war crimes unit of the Paris Judicial Court ordered the indictment before the Paris Criminal Court of three senior Syrian regime officials: Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Dabbagh case. Mazzen Dabbagh and his son, Patrick, Franco-Syrian nationals, were arrested and then detained at Mezzeh airport in Damascus by Syrian Air Force intelligence agents in November 2013. In October 2016, Obeida Dabbagh, FIDH and LDH had filed a complaint, with the active support of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). 

It is a great victory for my family and for all Syrian victims, that after all these years of fighting for the truth to come out, high-level officials are finally brought to justice. I call on the French judicial authorities to organise this trial as soon as possible ” said Obeida Dabbagh, brother and uncle of the disappeared.

This decision paves the way, for the first time in France, for the trial of very senior officials of the Syrian repressive apparatus: Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian secret services and close adviser to Bashar al Assad, Jamil Hassan, director of the Syrian Air Force and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, head of investigations of the said service at the military airport of Mezzeh in Damascus. This airport is home to one of the deadliest places of detention in Syria according to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry.

In the absence of the defendants on French territory, and given the very low probability that they will be arrested before the start of the trial, it will most likely be held in absentia.

After three trials that resulted in three convictions in Germany, it was time for France to demonstrate its willingness to contribute to the fight against impunity for crimes committed in Syria against the civilian population. Beyond Mazzen and Patrick Dabbagh, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrian men and women who have died during the Syrian conflict, especially at the hands of Bashar al Assad’s regime, and whose families are still waiting for justice to be delivered to them” said Mazen Darwish, General Manager of SCM. 

In October 2016, Obeida Dabbagh – brother and uncle of the disappeared – FIDH and LDH, with the support of SCM, filed a complaint to denounce the unjustified arrest in November 2013 of Mazzen and Patrick Dabbagh, and their subsequent disappearance. The father and son had been taken to the detention center at the Mezzeh military airport in Damascus, known for its inhuman conditions of detention and the brutality of its torture sessions. The investigative branch of the Syrian Air Force intelligence services there was headed by Abdel Salam Mahmoud.

After their arrest, the family of Mazzen and Patrick Dabbagh had no information as to their fate. It was not until July 2018 that the Syrian authorities issued death certificates, according to which Patrick and Mazzen Dabbagh died respectively in January 2014 and November 2017.

In October 2018, the investigating judges in charge of the case issued international arrest warrants against Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan and Abdel Salam Mahmoud for their responsibility in the disappearance and death of Mazzen and Patrick Dabbagh .

This outcome would not have been possible without the courage and determination of the Syrians who agreed to testify before the French courts to tell the terrible reality of the crimes committed in the jails of Bashar al Assad. At a time when the Syrian regime seems to come out unpunished for all the atrocities committed, it is essential that this trial, which is part of a long fight against impunity, qualifies the regime’s crimes and holds accountable, even by default, its highest officials ” said Clémence Bectarte, lawyer for FIDH, SCM and the Dabbagh family.

Throughout the proceedings, more than 20 Syrian victims testified before French justice, most of them survivors of Mezzeh prison. SCM supported the lawsuit by providing several testimonies and witnesses as well as comprehensive chains of command detailing the structure of the Syrian Air Force intelligence services at the time of Patrick and Mazzen Dabbagh’s disappearance.  

Our organisations call on the competent authorities to fully support the ongoing legal proceedings concerning the crimes committed in Syria, in particular by ensuring that the applicable legal framework allows victims effective access to French justice and that the latter has the resources adequate to bring these cases forward.

This is a significant step forward, made possible because the victims had dual Franco-Syrian nationality. For all the other victims, the French law of universal jurisdiction presents many obstacles to the outcome of proceedings. This must change, it is the responsibility of the French authorities to modify the law,” declared Patrick Baudouin, President of LDH and lawyer for FIDH and LDH.