French court upholds arrest warrant for Syria’s Assad

The Paris appeals court on Wednesday ruled that an international arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued by France for alleged complicity in war crimes during Syria’s civil war is valid and remains in place, lawyers said.

The warrant issued by French judges in November 2023 refers to charges of complicity in crimes against humanity and complicity in war crimes, following a French investigation into chemical attacks in Douma and the district of Eastern Ghouta in August 2013 which killed more than 1,000 people.

In May, French anti-terrorism prosecutors asked the Paris appeals court to rule on lifting the arrest warrant for Assad, saying he has absolute immunity as a serving head of state.

Assad's government has denied using chemical weapons against its opponents in the civil war, which broke out in March 2011.

Arrest warrants for sitting heads of state are rare because they generally have immunity from prosecution.

Victims of the attack welcomed France’s decision to issue arrest warrants as a reminder of the horrors of Syria’s civil war.

"This is a historic decision. It's the first time a national court has recognised that a sitting head of state does not have total personal immunity" for their actions, said plaintiffs' lawyers Clemence Bectarte, Jeanne Sulzer and Clemence Witt.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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