French court upholds arrest warrant for Syrian president

A French court on Wednesday upheld an arrest warrant against Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad, accusing him of complicity in a 2013 chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta.

The Paris Court of Appeal rejected an application by France’s National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) to annul the warrant, which argued that Assad has judicial immunity.

“Prohibiting the use of chemical weapons is part of customary international law as a mandatory rule, and the international crimes that the judges are looking at cannot be considered as being part of the official duties of a head of state.

They can thus be separated from the sovereignty naturally attached to these duties,” so the arrest warrant remains valid, the court said in a statement.

The case will now be returned to the investigating judges, with the prosecution having five days to appeal to the Court of Cassation.

In November 2023, an arrest warrant was issued against Assad, accusing him of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes related to the 2013 chemical attack.

Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, commander of the Fourth Division of the Syrian Army, and a regime general also face arrest warrants.

On Aug. 21, 2013, the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta, killing more than 1,400 civilians. In 2018, Eastern Ghouta experienced the Syrian government’s tightest blockade and most extensive use of weapons. The opposition was forced to evacuate in April 2018 under a coercive deal with Damascus and Russia.

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