Case tar­gets Syr­ian of­fi­cials in de­ten­tion tor­tures and killings

Span­ish court to hear crim­i­nal charges in death of van driver.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Nick Cum­ming Bruce ©2017 The New York Times

The death of a 43-yearold de­liv­ery van driver in Syria with no known po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions could eas­ily have faded into ob­scu­rity. In­stead, photographs show­ing he was burned, beaten and starved in a Da­m­as­cus prison have pro­pelled him to promi­nence in a land­mark le­gal ac­tion tar­get­ing of­fi­cials close to Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

A judge in Spain’s na­tional court agreed Mon­day to hear crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings against high-rank­ing mem­bers of Syria’s se­cu­rity ser­vices over the 2013 death of the driver, iden­ti­fied in court doc­u­ments only by his first name, Ab­dul, to pro­tect rel­a­tives in Syria.

The com­plaint, filed by Ab­dul’s sis­ter Amal, who man­ages a Madrid beauty sa­lon, ac­cuses nine of As­sad’s top se­cu­rity chiefs of state ter­ror­ism, al­leg­ing that they used gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions to com­mit crimes of ex­treme vi­o­lence aimed at ter­ror­iz­ing the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion and silencing dis­sent af­ter Arab Spring protests in 2011.

While Syria may dis­miss the com­plaint as mean­ing­less, in­ter­na­tional ju­rists said it could rep­re­sent a le­gal reck­on­ing for Syr­ian of­fi­cials who have acted with im­punity in six years of war.

De­fen­dants may find them­selves taken into cus­tody if they travel abroad. Their as­sets could be seized in other coun­tries.

“It starts a process of ac­count­abil­ity,” said Stephen J. Rapp, for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador-at-large for the Of­fice of Global Crim­i­nal Jus­tice and now a non­res­i­dent fel­low at The Hague In­sti­tute for Global Jus­tice, who helped to file the case.

The de­fen­dants in­clude Vice Pres­i­dent Farouk al-Sharaa, a for­mer for­eign min­is­ter; Ali Mam­louk, head of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Bureau; Gen. Jamil Has­san, head of air force in­tel­li­gence, one of As­sad’s most feared or­ga­ni­za­tions; and se­nior of­fi­cers run­ning the prison where Ab­dul was de­tained and killed.

The case “will specif­i­cally al­low the courts to in­ves­ti­gate the tor­ture and ex­e­cu­tion of thou­sands of civil­ians in the il­le­gal de­ten­tion cen­ters” op­er­ated by As­sad’s gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to lawyers in Lon­don and Madrid with a le­gal ad­vo­cacy group that rep­re­sents Ab­dul’s sis­ter.

The case re­flects ac­cel­er­at­ing ef­forts in Europe to by­pass the po­lit­i­cal ob­sta­cles that have thwarted ac­cess to other in­ter­na­tional jus­tice reme­dies for crimes com­mit­ted in Syria’s war.

HUS­SEIN MALLA / AP 2008

Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad ran il­le­gal de­ten­tion cen­ters, rights lawyers charge.

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