Syrian victims of chemical attacks file case with German prosecutors

Syrian victims of chemical attacks file case with German prosecutors
A Syrian boy walks amid a cloud of dust as a bulldozer removes debris from destroyed buildings, in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta region, near the Syrian capital Damascus, July 15, 2018. (AP Photo)
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Updated 06 October 2020

Syrian victims of chemical attacks file case with German prosecutors

Syrian victims of chemical attacks file case with German prosecutors
  • Comprehensive body of evidence shows the use of substances such as sarin gas in Ghouta in 2013 and in Khan Sheikhoun four years later, resulting in the deaths of at least 1,400 people
  • Includes testimonies from 17 survivors and 50 defectors with knowledge of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons program or plans to carry out the two attacks

BERLIN: Lawyers representing victims of chemical weapons attacks in Syria say they have filed criminal complaints with Germany’s federal public prosecutor against Syrian officials they blame for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in rebel-held areas.
Germany, which is home to 600,000 Syrians, has “universal jurisdiction” laws that allow it to prosecute people for crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
That offers a rare legal avenue for action against the government of President Bashar Assad. Attempts by Western powers to set up an international tribunal for Syria have been blocked by Russia and China at the UN Security Council.
The Syrian government denies it has used chemical weapons against its own civilians.
A spokesman for Germany’s Public Prosecutor General (GBA) confirmed that the complaint had been submitted, declining to give further details.
The complaints are based on what the lawyers say is the most comprehensive body of evidence so far on the use of substances such as sarin gas in Syria in Ghouta in 2013 and in Khan Sheikhoun four years later, which killed at least 1,400 people.
They include testimonies from 17 survivors and 50 defectors with knowledge of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons program or plans to carry out the two attacks, they say.
“Prosecutors may ultimately determine they have sufficient evidence to issue arrest warrants for members of the Assad regime,” said Steve Kostas, a lawyer with the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative, one of three organizations behind the complaints.
“This would be a major step in the longer term process to secure trials against Syrian officials.”
A UN-commissioned investigation to identify those behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria concluded in 2016 that Syrian government forces had used chlorine and sarin gas.
“It is a small step but it gives us hope that maybe one day we could see justice,” said a volunteer medic who was injured while rescuing victims of the attack in Ghouta.
“The world has started to forget about us and our complaints are a reminder that the world has a moral obligation to help put on trial people who used chemical weapons,” added the woman, who fled to Germany in 2015 and requested anonymity, citing safety fears.
Syrian lawyers and victims of alleged torture are also pursuing cases against former Syrian military and security officials living in Germany and suspected of human rights violations.
The first trial of suspected members of Assad’s security services for crimes against humanity, including torture and sexual assault, started in a German court in April.
The country’s prosecutor general has also issued an international arrest warrant for the head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Assad government denies it tortures prisoners.
“The significance of the complaints is to send a signal to the Syrian regime’s main backers — Russia and Iran — that there can be no resolution to the conflict without accountability for crimes against civilians,” said Mazen Darwish, director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.


US designates Bahrain, UAE ‘major security partners’

US designates Bahrain, UAE ‘major security partners’
Updated 17 January 2021

US designates Bahrain, UAE ‘major security partners’

US designates Bahrain, UAE ‘major security partners’
  • Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and hostssome 5,000 American troops
  • UAE hosts 3,500 US troops and its Jebel Ali port is the busiest port of call for American warships outside of the US

DUBAI: The US called Bahrain and the UAE “major security partners” early on Saturday, a previously unheard of designation for the two countries home to major American military operations.
A White House statement tied the designation to Bahrain and the UAE normalizing ties to Israel, saying it “reflects their extraordinary courage, determination and leadership.” It also noted the two countries long have taken part in US military exercises.
It’s unclear what the designation means for Bahrain and the UAE.
Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, while the UAE’s Jebel Ali port is the busiest port of call for American warships outside of the US. Bahrain hosts some 5,000 American troops, while the UAE hosts 3,500, many at Al-Dhafra Air Base.
Already, the US uses the designation of “major non-NATO ally” to describe its relationship with Kuwait, which hosts the forward command of US Army Central. That designation grants a country special financial and military considerations for nations not part of NATO. Bahrain also is a non-NATO ally.
The US military’s Central Command and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The 5th Fleet referred queries to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House designation comes in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump forged close ties to Gulf Arab countries during his time in office in part over his hard-line stance on Iran.
That’s sparked a series of escalating incidents between the countries after Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
It also comes after Bahrain and the UAE joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in beginning to resolve a yearslong boycott of Qatar, that houses Al-Udeid Air Base.