Joint Statement by Syrian and International Civil Society Organizations and Victims’ Associations in support of investigating Bashar al-Assad for chemical attacks

We are Syrian and international civil society organizations and victims’ associations united in our call for justice and accountability for the survivors and victims of chemical attacks in Syria. 

NGOs have documented hundreds of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have conducted detailed investigations into a limited number of attacks and repeatedly identified the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, as the perpetrator. These constitute clear violations of international law, including international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and international human rights law.

We commend the efforts of French judges investigating the chemical attacks on civilians in Douma and Eastern Ghouta in August 2013, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians. 

The investigating judges found there is a sufficient basis to issue arrest warrants for four senior officials in Syria’s government for alleged responsibility for the attacks: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, his brother Major General Maher al-Assad, the de facto leader of the 4th Armoured Division, as well as General Ghassan Abbas, the Director of Branch 450 of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), and General Bassam al-Hasan, the Presidential Advisor for Strategic Affairs and liaison officer between the Presidential Palace and the SSRC.

The arrest warrants for Bashar al-Assad and other officials are a significant advance in our collective efforts for accountability.

However, we strongly oppose the French National Anti-Terror Public Prosecutor’s Office decision to challenge the validity of the arrest warrant against Bashar al-Assad. The arrest warrants for the other officials are not contested and will remain in effect. The Public Prosecutor argues that as a sitting head of state, Bashar al-Assad is immune from trial and prosecution in France. 

Heads of State have been understood to be immune before foreign domestic courts. Recent decades have seen an erosion of state immunities and functional immunities under international law to prevent impunity for international crimes, notably war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is now time to also challenge the personal immunity of the sitting head of state for international crimes. In the context of Syrian chemical attacks, the international community and the UN Security Council have repeatedly demanded that all perpetrators must be held accountable.

Ongoing impunity for these crimes only serves to perpetuate the cycle of violence and suffering for victims and survivors. It undermines the international rule of law. 

This challenge by the Prosecutor’s Office is inconsistent with France’s leadership of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons—a coalition of over 40 states and the European Union. It also contradicts the French government’s consistent stance demanding accountability for all perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria. Most critically, it hampers the extraordinary efforts of victims and survivors who seek justice and redress through the French legal system.

We urgently call upon the French government to affirm its support for the independent judicial investigation of all those suspected of criminal responsibility for these atrocities, including Bashar al-Assad. The French government must make clear that it does not recognize Bashar al-Assad’s immunity for his role in chemical weapons attacks. France’s commitment to justice and the prohibition of chemical weapons must be unwavering.

  1. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) 
  2. Mnemonic / Syrian Archive 
  3. Open Society Justice Initiative 
  4. Civil Rights Defenders 
  5. Adalaty 
  6. Adel Centre For Human Rights 
  7. Afrin Platform 
  8. Al-Ameen for Humanitarian Support 
  9. Amal Healing and Advocacy Center 
  10. Amal Organization 
  11. Amnesty International 
  12. Association of Victims of Chemical Weapons (AVCW) 
  13. Ayn Al Madina 
  14. Caesar Families Association (CFA) 
  15. Center for Enforcement of Human Rights International 
  16. Center for Justice and Accountability 
  17. Chemical Violations Documentation Center and Research (CVDCR) 
  18. Child Guardians 
  19. DAR Association for Victims of Forced Displacement 
  20. Derina Organization 
  21. Do Not Suffocate Truth Campaign 
  22. European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights 
  23. Families for Freedom Movement (FfF) 
  24. Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights 
  25. Free Syrian Lawyers Association (FSLA) 
  26. Guernica 37 
  27. Human Rights Guardians 
  28. Humanitarian Care Charity 
  29. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement 
  30. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute 
  31. International Commission of Jurists 
  32. International Federation for Human Rights 
  33. Jana Watan 
  34. Justice for Peace 
  35. Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (LDHR) 
  36. Local Administration Councils’ Unit (LACU) 
  37. Local Development and Small-Projects Support (LDSPS) 
  38. Mahabad Organization for Human Rights “MOHR”
  39. Mazaya Organization Women 
  40. Mizan Organisation for Legal Research and Human Rights 
  41. Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies 
  42. NAJOON Organization 
  43. Pro-justice 
  44. REDRESS 
  45. Sadad Humanitarian Organization 
  46. Sans Menottes 
  47. SEWAR Organization 
  48. Sobh Cultural Team 
  49. Synergy Association for Victims 
  50. Syria Spring Team 
  51. Syrian American Council 
  52. Syrian Center for Community Development (SCCD) 
  53. Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research (SCLSR) 
  54. Syrian Forum 
  55. Syrian Legal Development Programme (SLDP) 
  56. TASTAKEL Women’s Organization 
  57. The Syria Campaign 
  58. The White Helmets 
  59. TRIAL International 
  60. Union of Free Syrian Students 
  61. Union of Revolutionary Bureaus (URB) 
  62. Women Now for Development (WND) 
  63. Women’s Organization for Transitional Justice 
  64. Women’s Support and Empowerment Center in Idlib 
  65. Zoom-In Organization