The lawyers representing the survivors have built a body of evidence to implicate Bashar al Assad in the killings of hundreds of civilians.
Three Syrian human rights organisations, along with survivors of chemical attack victims, on Tuesday announced that they have filed a criminal complaint in France against Bashar al Assad and his regime for allegedly carrying out chemical attacks outside of Damascus in August 2013.
Accusing the Assad regime of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the group said the use of incendiary bombs and chemical weapons is a war crime according to international law, and that the Assad regime should be tried for engaging in such cruel actions.
A few days ago, several reports emerged in the media holding the Assad regime responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, as well as the displacement of half of the Syrian population since the beginning of the civil war.
A German court recently convicted several members of the regime, including figures like Eyad al Gharib, a former intelligence officer loyal to Assad, giving hope to rights groups about the prospect of prosecuting Assad and his regime in an international court of law. Gharib received a four and a half year sentence for committing crimes against humanity.
Last year, in October, the same organisations filed a similar complaint in Germany in an effort to prompt an investigation into the sarin attacks in Eastern Ghouta and Khan Shaykhun in 2013 and 2017.
The complaint was made in light of the German court’s ruling, which directly held Gharib responsible for the torture and death of protestors and detainees.
The formal complaint lodged in a French court is the first case entertained against the Assad regime outside Syria. For rights groups, it's a crucial milestone. Backed by Germany's universal jurisdiction laws, it has paved the way for an investigation into the crimes allegedly committed by the Assad regime.
The two back-to-back developments have given hope to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and human rights organisations who are waiting to see the day when both Assad and his regime members will be tried for crimes against humanity.
Paris has previously condemned the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in the country’s civil war. In 2018, the French government threatened Assad with airstrikes if he continued to use chemical weapons in the war.
In the most recent complaint of the three Syrian NGOs — the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and Syrian Archive — France was urged to launch an investigation into the chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian towns of Douma and Eastern Ghouta in August 2013.
In the joint statement, the NGOs said; "The complaint points to the Syrian government's alleged responsibility in carrying out the attacks, which killed more than a thousand people, including many children. These attacks constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity."
The lawyer of the OSJI, Steve Kostas, urged French judges to jointly investigate the attacks on Eastern Ghouta, with the German prosecutor on Tuesday saying that by pooling resources and efforts, countries can more easily compile strong evidence against those most responsible within the Bashar regime.
He added that this would then allow judicial authorities in different countries to have criminal cases ready to prosecute.
The filed criminal complaint on Tuesday contains the testimonies of survivors and is elaborated with hundreds of photos and video, as well as an analysis of the regime military chain of command.
Commenting on the issue, Hadi Al Khatib from Syrian Archive said; “Bashar’s regime still has not come clean about its chemical weapons production, use and storage, which means it still poses a threat to its own civilians, as well as to international peace and security.”
He has been working since 2011 on collecting, verifying, and investigating citizen-generated data as evidence of human rights violations in order to expose and draw attention to human rights violations committed in the Syrian conflict.
According to Al Khatib, the regime must be held accountable.