The First Trial in France of Senior Syrian Officials Begins in May 2024

The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) received an official notice from the office of the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Paris Court of Appeal that the trial of Major General Ali Mamlouk, Major General Jamil Hassan and Major General Abdel Salam Mahmoud, for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Dabbagh case will take place between May 21 and 24, 2024. The three senior Syrian government officials will be charged before the Paris Criminal Court, becoming the first trial to be held in France regarding crimes committed in Syria.

The trial comes seven years after Obeida Dabbagh – brother and uncle of the disappeared – the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH), with the active support of SCM filed a complaint. It denounced the unjustified arrest of Mazzen and Patrick Dabbagh in November 2013 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, which resulted in the death of Patrick and Mazzen in January 2014 and November 2017 respectively. The investigation also highlighted the responsibility of the defendants in the confiscation of the Dabbagh family home, which was given to a senior Syrian Air Intelligence officer. This is a widespread practice in Syria whereby missing persons and detainees were dispossessed and deprived of their property.

French courts have jurisdiction over crimes committed against French nationals or those with dual nationality, as well as crimes perpetrated by French nationals or those with dual nationality. Thus, it is on the basis of Mazzen and Patrick Abdelkader’s dual Syrian French nationality that a criminal investigation was initiated in France.

In 2021, SCM was admitted as a civil party in the case and supported the lawsuit by providing several testimonies and witnesses including its general manager, Mazen Darwish who was arrested and detained along with his colleagues by the same investigative branch of the Syrian Air Force intelligence services back in 2012. Former Syrian officers who had defected also provided important information that enabled SCM’s team to establish the chain of command in the Syrian Air Force intelligence services at the time of Patrick and Mazzen Dabbagh’s disappearance. A total of 23 Syrian witnesses have agreed to testify in this case, either because they were survivors of the Mezzeh detention center or because they had personally been confronted to one of the Syrian officials targeted by these proceedings. In October 2018, the investigating judges in charge of the case issued international arrest warrants against the suspects for their responsibility in the disappearance and death of Mazzen and Patrick Dabbagh.

SCM welcomes the trial proceedings against the three very senior officials of the Syrian repressive apparatus and considers it as a step in the path towards achieving justice for Syrians. It commends the courage of the victims and witnesses, putting all its capabilities at their service. 

SCM also stresses that all cases related to violations committed in Syria are not a substitute for launching a national path for transitional justice that aims to completely end the state of impunity, and guarantee the rights of victims by providing justice as an indispensable prelude to building sustainable peace in Syria.