LONDON, 13 March 2021 – Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers submits confidential filing with the War Crimes Unit of the U.K. Metropolitan Police Service Counter-Terrorism Command (SO15) to open an investigation against Asma al-Assad, a dual British-Syrian national, into allegations of incitement and encouragement to commit acts of terrorism in the Syrian Arab Republic.
Since March 2011, several hundred thousand Syrian civilians have been unlawfully killed and subject to arbitrary detention and mistreatment. Hundreds of detention centres have been established to imprison and torture anti-government protesters and a large number of anti-government protesters have died or suffered serious injury and abuse as a result of torture.
Numerous independent sources agree that these crimes are the result of a large-scale attack throughout Syria conducted by Syrian Government Forces directed against the large number of anti-government protesters so as to constitute a widespread attack. The attacks are also organised acts of violence that are part of the Syrian Government’s plan to target and quash anti-government protesters and silence any critics within Syria. The attacks are systematic in nature so as to satisfy the contextual elements of crimes against humanity, as well as war crimes, torture and other inhumane acts under international law.
Since the beginning of anti-government protests in March 2011, more than half a million Syrian civilians have been killed in the conflict, over a million have been severely injured, and over twelve million people have been displaced, either internally, or externally in other countries. It is important to emphasise that more than half the pre-war population have either been killed, disappeared or have been forced to leave their homes. A significant proportion of those that were forced to flee, forced due to circumstances outside of their control due to the brutal conduct of the Syrian State Security Forces and have not been able to return for the very same reasons that forced them to leave. Syrian authorities have subjected tens of thousands to arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, ill-treatment and torture using an extensive network of detention facilities throughout Syria. Those arrested include peaceful protesters and activists involved in organizing, filming, and reporting on protests as well as journalists, humanitarian assistance providers, lawyers, and doctors. A large number of political activists remain in incommunicado detention while others have faced trial, including before military and counterterrorism courts, for exercising their rights.
As part of the Syrian Government policy to crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, the Government has consistently sanctioned the use of excessive (and at times lethal) force in order to disperse anti-government groups and protestors. To achieve this, the Government has employed strategies including the deployment of the army and armoured personnel vehicles and given orders to the Syrian Government Forces to shoot at protestors using, inter alia, nail bombs, anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. To meet the logistical challenges brought about by the detentions of thousands of people in the context of anti-government demonstrations since March 2011, Syrian authorities established numerous temporary ‘unofficial’ holding centres in places such as stadiums, military bases, schools, and hospitals where demonstrators were rounded up and held en masse before being transported to branches of the intelligence agencies.
Reports by various international human rights groups and the media reveal that former detainees had been subjected to torture or witnessed the torture of others during interrogation. Several of these attest to the independent testimonies of hundreds of former detainees who have stated that members of the Syrian Government Forces (including interrogators and guards at detention centres) used a broad range of torture methods, including beatings with objects such as batons and wires, holding the detainees in painful stress positions for prolonged periods of time, often with the use of specially devised equipment, the use of electricity, burning with car battery acid, sexual assault and humiliation, the pulling of fingernails, and mock execution.
On the basis of the evidence thus far considered, it is clear that a number of conclusions can be drawn.
First, the Syrian Government is clearly guilty of a systematic approach to the torture and murder of civilians. We see this systematic approach being evidenced at all stages in that even before the armed conflict existed within the State, those who sought to protest against the regime were made subject to arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, torture and other forms of ill treatment during that detention and ultimately extra-judicial execution.
Second, the Syrian Government has made a very clear decision that such acts were set to continue given the manner in which ‘temporary’ or ‘ad hoc’ places of detention were constructed so as to deal with the increasing numbers of detainees. The creation of such places of detention is clear evidence of a systematic and planned approach towards such detention.
Third, a significant amount of first-hand testimony and documented evidence shows the complete disregard that the Syrian Government Forces and therefore the Syrian Government (as it cannot be argued that that those responsible for the atrocities are acting under their own personal mandate) has for those detained. Graphic testimony has been heard of the widespread use of torture, of sexual assault, and of murder.
Fourth, Syrian Government Forces have deployed a number of unlawful means including the use of chemical and prohibited weapons, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, the arbitrary arrest, torture and murder of several thousand civilian detainees that constitute international crimes under national and international law, the likes of which has not been seen since the Holocaust.
Fifth, the Syrian Government has adopted a sophisticated propaganda and misinformation campaign, akin to that of genocide denial, to wash away the crimes of the Government and to portray the anti-government protesters as terrorists following an extremist ideology. Such a campaign has had a devastatingly corrosive and destabilising effect in Syria and has resulted in prolonging the conflict for many years already.
Sixth, a number of influential actors have used the propaganda campaign to encourage and incite crimes committed against the civilian population, crimes committed by a large number of armed groups that include the Syrian Government Forces, but also includes a number of paramilitary groups and proscribed terrorist entities.
Seventh, it is alleged that one of those influential persons who is alleged to have encouraged or incited acts of terrorism is the First Lady of Syria, Asma Al-Assad.
The legal team at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers has been investigating this matter for a number of months and has submitted two confidential filings with the War Crimes Unit. The filings allege incitement and encouragement. The conflict in Syria is now in its tenth year. The Syrian people who have fought for nothing more than freedom and dignity have been subjugated and denigrated now seek justice. It is important to hold not only those who carry out these horrific crimes accountable but also those who promote, incite, encourage and glorify such acts. We are seeking to ensure that the process of truth and justice is meted out equally to all persons irrespective of status and standing. This is an important step in holding senior political officials accountable for their acts and ensuring that a State, through an independent and impartial legal process, takes responsibility for the acts of its own nationals.
As the matter is under review by the appropriate authorities, and wishing to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of such investigations, it would not be appropriate to comment on the specific allegations or the evidence that supports those allegations, however, as the subject is a British national it is important that she faces prosecution if the evidence supports the allegation and not merely stripped of her citizenship. This is an important process, and it is only right that justice is served before an English Court. We recognise that it would be politically expedient to merely strip any person accused of their citizenship. That will not serve the interests of the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims to the ten-year conflict. Any removal of citizenship should only come after facing a trial before an English Court where the process will be independent and impartial and will look solely at the evidence irrespective of any political considerations.
- ends -
See the report in The Sunday Times "Asma al-Assad: Syria's first lady faces prosecution in UK" by Louise Callaghan here
Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers
The Bloomsbury Building
10 Bloomsbury Way
T +44 20 3457 0169