Historical. In an indictment signed last Wednesday and of which Agence France-Presse (AFP) was informed, two investigating judges from the Paris court sent Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan and Abdel Salam Mahmoud to the assizes for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes after the deaths of two Franco-Syrian citizens, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, arrested in 2013. This will be the first French trial on crimes against humanity committed in Syria.

“This decision opens the way, for the first time in France, to the trial of very senior officials of the Syrian repressive apparatus”, welcomed in a press release the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Syrian Center for the media (SCM) and the League for Human Rights (LDH), civil parties in the case.

Ali Mamlouk is the former head of Syrian intelligence, who in 2012 became director of the National Security Office, the highest intelligence body in Syria. Jamil Hassan was for his part director of the intelligence services of the Syrian Air Force during the disappearance of the two Franco-Syrians, while Abdel Salam Mahmoud was director of the investigation branch of the intelligence service of the army. air. Targeted by international arrest warrants, the accused should be tried in absentia.

The prosecution had opened a preliminary investigation in 2015, then a judicial investigation had been opened for enforced disappearances and acts of torture constituting crimes against humanity in October 2016, after a report made by the brother and uncle of the disappeared, Obeïda Dabbagh. Contacted by AFP, the latter welcomed this progress. “This is the culmination of a decade-long struggle,” he said, saying it sent the regime a “signal […] that sooner or later impunity would end.”

For Clémence Bectarte, lawyer for FIDH, SCM and the Dabbagh family, “it is essential that this trial, which is part of a long fight against impunity, qualifies the crimes of the regime and judges, even by default, its highest officials”.

The two Franco-Syrians, a student at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences in Damascus born in 1993 for the first, and a senior education adviser at the French School in Damascus, born in 1956 for the second, were arrested in November 2013 by officers claiming to be from the Syrian Air Force intelligence services.

According to Mazzen Dabbagh’s brother-in-law, arrested at the same time as him but released two days later, the two men were transferred to Al-Mezzeh prison, denounced as a regime torture centre. Then, they did not give any sign of life until they were declared dead by the regime in August 2018. According to the death certificates, Patrick died on January 21, 2014 and Mazzen on November 25, 2017.

Blows on the soles of the feet with an iron bar, electric shocks, pulling out nails… during the investigations, many witnesses – including several deserters from the Syrian army and former detainees from al-Mezzeh – detailed to the French investigators and to the NGO International Commission for Justice and Accountability (CIJA) the torture inflicted in this prison.

According to the order, “it appears sufficiently established” that Patrick and Mazzen Dabbagh “have been subjected, like thousands of Air Force intelligence detainees, to torture of such intensity that they are deceased”. In addition, Mazzen Dabbagh’s house was confiscated and his wife and daughter were evicted from it in July 2016.

Ownership of the residence “was transferred to the Syrian Arab Republic” which leased it “to the Director of Air Force Intelligence for the sum of approximately 30 euros per year”, according to the magistrates , who believe that these facts constitute complicity in a war crime.

The Syrian regime is the target of several legal actions launched in Europe, in particular in Germany. “After three trials which resulted in three convictions in Germany, it was time for France to demonstrate its willingness to contribute to the fight against impunity for crimes committed in Syria against the civilian population”, welcomed Mazen Darwish , director of the SCM, quoted in the press release.