Syria’s Assad regime on trial in Europe

Wafa Mustafa is one of many Syrians still looking for relatives missing since a brutal government crackdown on dissent began in 2011. (Thomas Lohnes/AFP)
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Updated 10 January 2022

Syria’s Assad regime on trial in Europe

  • Germany has used the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity

PARIS: A growing number of cases are being brought in Europe, and especially Germany, against loyalists of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime on accusations of state-sponsored torture.
In the latest case, a court in the German city of Koblenz is set on Thursday to rule on the case of former Syrian intelligence agent, Anwar Raslan, who is accused of crimes against humanity, for which prosecutors are demanding a life sentence.
In February 2021, the court jailed a lower-ranking former Syrian intelligence agent, Eyad Al-Gharib, for being an accomplice to crimes against humanity in the world’s first prosecution over the abuses.
Here is a snapshot of the cases:
Germany has used the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, including war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed, after receiving complaints from Syrians who claim to have been tortured in regime jails.
In March 2017, seven Syrian torture survivors and a human rights group filed a criminal complaint in Germany against Syrian secret service officials.
Later that year nearly 27,000 photos taken by a former Syrian military photographer known as Caesar, who documented torture and death in regime jails, were also turned over to German courts, according to German rights group ECCHR.
In November 2017, the ECCHR announced that two new complaints for crimes against humanity and war crimes had been filed by 13 Syrians over alleged acts of torture.
Seven other Syrian men and women who claimed to have suffered or witnessed rape and sexual abuse in Assad’s detention centers also submitted a complaint to German prosecutors, the group revealed in June 2020.
They named nine senior government and air force intelligence officials, including top Syrian intelligence officer Jamil Hassan, already the subject of an international arrest notice.
The trial of a Syrian doctor accused of torture, murder and crimes against humanity is due to start in Frankfurt on January 19.
In September 2015, a Paris prosecutor opened a preliminary inquiry against Assad’s regime for crimes against humanity over allegations of abduction and torture.
The following July the family of a Syrian doctor who died in a government prison lodged a complaint in Paris over his torture and murder
Another French court opened an investigation in 2016 into the disappearance of Mazen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, two French-Syrian nationals who had been arrested in Syria three years earlier.
France issued its first international arrest notices for Syrian intelligence officials in 2018 for “complicity in acts of torture” related to the case as well as “complicity in crimes against humanity” and “complicity in war crimes.”
The warrants were for National Security Bureau director Ali Mamluk, Air Force Intelligence chief Jamil Hassan and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, who was in charge of the Damascus branch of the Air Force Intelligence investigative branch.
In April 2021, three NGOs that had lodged civil complaints managed to get a probe opened into chemical attacks in 2013 blamed on the Syrian government. The case, already filed in Germany, was lodged on behalf of victims of the 2013 attack and a 2017 attack using sarin gas.
In December 2021, a Franco-Syrian man was jailed, suspected of providing material to the Syrian army which could be used to make chemical weapons.
It is the first time that someone had been found charged in France with supporting Assad’s troops, judicial officials said.
In July 2017, a Spanish court rejected a complaint filed by a Spanish woman of Syrian origin against nine Syrian government officials over the forced detention, torture and alleged execution of her brother in 2013.
Legal proceedings have also been launched in Austria, Norway and Sweden which was in 2017 the first country to sentence a former soldier for war crimes.
In Sweden, four NGOs lodged a complaint in April 2021 against Assad and several top officials after two chemical attacks in 2013 and 2017.
In 2016, the United Nations set up its International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, which is preparing war crimes charges against individuals over the Syrian conflict.
Since April 20 the body has been gathering evidence for use in possible future trials.

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Turkey re-evaluating death penalty after Erdogan’s wildfires comment — minister

Updated 4 sec ago

Turkey re-evaluating death penalty after Erdogan’s wildfires comment — minister

ISTANBUL: Turkey will reconsider a 2004 decision to abolish capital punishment, the justice minister said on Saturday, after President Tayyip Erdogan raised the death penalty in connection with the cause of this week’s wildfires.
Capital punishment was struck from the constitution in the early years of Erdogan’s rule. But after a suspected deliberate blaze destroyed 4,500 hectares (11,119 acres) of Aegean coastal forest, Erdogan said tougher justice was needed.
Authorities have said that a suspect detained in connection with the fire has admitted to causing it. The blaze, in woodland near the resort of Marmaris, has been contained, authorities said on Saturday.
After visiting the scene on Friday, Erdogan said the punishment for burning forests should be “intimidating, and if that’s a death sentence, it’s a death sentence.”
Speaking to reporters in the eastern town of Agri on Saturday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the president’s comments “are instructions to us.”
“We have started working on it as the ministry,” Bozdag said, adding that the current punishment for starting wildfires was 10 years in prison, rising to a possible life sentence if part of organized crime.
The country’s first big blaze of the summer began on Tuesday and conjured memories of last year’s fires which ravaged 140,000 hectares of countryside, the worst on record.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Thursday that the detained suspect had admitted to burning down the forest out of frustration due to family issues.
Local officials told Reuters in recent days that authorities lacked the necessary equipment and personnel for another summer of fires.
On Friday, Forestry Minister Vahit Kirisci said 88 percent of forest fires in Turkey were started by people.

Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry

Updated 25 June 2022

Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry

  • The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead but the figure could not immediately be confirmed
  • APDHA, a human rights group based in Andalusia, and a joint statement released by five rights organizations in Morocco also called for inquiries

MADRID: Human rights organizations in Spain and Morocco have called on both countries to investigate the deaths of at least 18 Africans and injuries suffered by dozens more who attempted to scale the border fence that surrounds Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.
Moroccan authorities said the casualties occurred when a “stampede” of people tried to climb the iron fence that separates Melilla and Morocco. In a statement released Friday, Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.
Local authorities cited by Morocco’s official MAP news agency said the death toll increased to 18 after several migrants died in the hospital. The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.
The association also shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of migrants lying on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them.
“They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,” the human rights group said on Twitter. It called for a “comprehensive” investigation.
In another of the association’s videos, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to strike a person lying on the ground.
In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events at the border.
“Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes,” Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International Spain, said. “The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.”
APDHA, a human rights group based in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, and a joint statement released by five rights organizations in Morocco also called for inquiries.
A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said that around 2,000 people had attempted to make it across the border fence but were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard Police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border fence. A total 133 migrants made it across the border.


EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days

Updated 25 June 2022

EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days

  • France urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible

DUBAI: Talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal will resume in the coming days, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Saturday during a visit to Tehran.
“We will resume the talks on the JCPOA in the coming days,” Borrell told a news conference in the Iranian capital, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

Borrell met Iran’s top diplomat on Saturday, Iranian state TV reported, as the bloc seeks to break an impasse between Tehran and Washington over reinstating a nuclear pact.
The United States said earlier in June it was awaiting a constructive response from Iran on reviving the 2015 deal — under which Iran restricted its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions — without “extraneous” issues.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian last week called on Washington, which exited the deal and then imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran during the Trump administration in 2018, to “be realistic.”
It appeared on the brink of revival in March when the EU, which is coordinating negotiations, invited ministers to Vienna to seal it after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration.
But the talks have since been bogged down, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list.
Two officials, one Iranian and one European, told Reuters ahead of Borrell’s trip that “two issues including one on sanctions remained to be resolved,” comments that Iran’s foreign ministry has neither denied nor confirmed.
France, a party to the deal, on Friday urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible.


Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

Updated 25 June 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

  • Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded near the village of Silwad

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager died from his wounds hours after being shot by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian sources said Saturday.
Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded on Friday evening near the village of Silwad, near Ramallah in the northern West Bank, and died hours later, a Silwad councillor told AFP. The Israeli military did not immediately comment.
The teenager was near a road leading to the neighboring settlement of Ofra when he was wounded by Israeli soldiers, the councillor said.
His death comes amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Nineteen people, mostly Israeli civilians — including 18 inside Israel and a Jewish settler — have been killed in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs since late March.
Israeli security forces have responded with raids inside Israel and in the West Bank in which three Israeli Arab attackers and at least 46 Palestinians have been killed.
Among those killed were suspected militants but also non-combatants, including an Al Jazeera journalist who was covering a raid in Jenin.


Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla

Updated 25 June 2022

Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla

  • About 2,000 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday
  • The casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence

RABAT, Morocco: At least 18 African migrants died when a huge crowd tried to cross into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco, according to an update from Moroccan authorities.
Around 2,000 migrants approached Melilla at dawn Friday and more than 500 managed to enter a border control area after cutting a fence with shears, the Spanish government’s local delegation said in a statement about the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
Moroccan officials said late Friday that 13 migrants had died of injuries sustained in the incursion, in addition to five who were confirmed dead earlier in the day.
“Some fell from the top of the barrier” separating the two sides, a Moroccan official said, adding that 140 security personnel and 76 migrants were injured during the attempt to cross.
The Spanish Civil Guard, which monitors the other side of the fence, said it had no information on the tragedy and referred enquiries to Morocco.
The border of the Spanish enclave and the neighboring Moroccan city of Nador were calm early Saturday, without police deployment, AFP journalists said.
Morocco had deployed a “large” number of forces to try to repel the assault on the border, who “cooperated actively” with Spain’s security forces, it said earlier in a statement.
Images on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the pavement in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.
Speaking in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the “violent assault,” which he blamed on “mafias who traffic in human beings.”
Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other tiny North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants.
On Thursday night migrants and security forces had “clashed” on the Moroccan side of the border, Omar Naji of Moroccan rights group AMDH told AFP.
Several of them were hospitalized in Nador, he added.
The AMDH’s Nador chapter called for the opening of “a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy toll” which shows that “the migration policies followed are deadly with borders and barriers that kill.”
It was the first such mass incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
In March, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara going back on its decades-long stance of neutrality.
Sanchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a “new stage” in relations.
The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence Polisario Front, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.
A month later, some 10,000 migrants surged across the Moroccan border into Spain’s Ceuta enclave as border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.
Rabat calls for the Western Sahara to have an autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty but the Polisario Front wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination as agreed in a 1991 cease-fire agreement.
In the days just before Morocco and Spain patched up their ties, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants into Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record. Nearly 500 made it across.
Patching up relations with Morocco — the departure point for many migrants — has meant a drop in arrivals, notably in Spain’s Atlantic Canary Islands.
The number of migrants who reached the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, government figures show.
Sanchez earlier this month warned that “Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure.”
Spain will seek to have “irregular migration” listed as one of the security threats on the NATO’s southern flank when the alliance gathers for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.
Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) border between Melilla and Morocco, or Ceuta’s eight-kilometer border, by climbing the barriers, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles.
The two territories are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers.
Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to try to climb the border fence, and throw stones at police.