Case targets Syrian officials in detention tortures and killings
Spanish court to hear criminal charges in death of van driver.
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.
Syrian President Bashar Assad ran illegal detention centers, rights lawyers charge.