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Paris Court of Appeal Upholds International Arrest Warrant for Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad

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JUN 27, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a significant victory for justice, the Paris Court of Appeal has rejected the French Public Prosecutor’s request to annul an international arrest warrant for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. This warrant, issued by France in November 2023, is related to war crimes and the use of chemical weapons. 

French magistrates from the Specialized Unit for Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes of the Paris Judicial Court issued arrest warrants for Syrian President Bashar al Assad as well and three senior regime officials for their complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity following chemical attacks in Douma and Eastern Ghouta in August 2013, which resulted in over 1,400 dead and thousands of injuries. The officials named are Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, commander of the 4th Armored Division, and two Syrian generals, Ghassan Abbas and Bassam al-Hassan. 

In May, French anti-terrorism prosecutors requested the Paris Court of Appeals to lift the arrest warrant for Assad, citing his absolute immunity as a serving Head of State. Although Heads of State generally enjoy immunity from prosecution, this can be waived for serious violations of international law, as demonstrated in Assad’s case. This decision marks the first time a national court has recognized that the personal immunity of a serving Head of State is not absolute. 

The ruling means that these four individuals can be arrested and brought to France for questioning by investigative judges. While it is unlikely that Assad will face trial in France, the issuance of an international warrant against a serving Head of State is rare and sends a strong message about Assad’s leadership at a time when some countries have welcomed him back into the international fold. 

Stephen Rapp, a member of SETF’s Board of Trustees, and former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, commented on the decision: “This historic decision means that Head of State immunity no longer means impunity in national courts.” He added, “It will hasten the day when Assad will face his victims and answer for his monstrous crimes. It should also make the normalization that he seeks impossible, because it will brand those who deal with him as complicit in his defiance of justice. Even if years pass before his arrest, he will dare not travel, and he will remain trapped in a box of his own making.”


About the Syrian Emergency Task Force

The Syrian Emergency Task Force is a Syrian-American 501(c)(3) headquartered in Washington, D.C. SETF works tirelessly to bring an end to the killing in Syria through humanitarian initiatives, advocacy and the pursuit of justice and accountability for war crimes. Today, SETF stands as the most notable American organization working on Syria, as evidenced by the impact it has made both on the ground in Syria and the U.S. SETF serves as a resource for education by bringing the voices of the Syrian people to the international stage. From testimonies at the UN Security Council to local grassroots community fundraisers, the team brings together like-minded people who are determined to fight for a safe, and free Syria away from the vicious dictatorship.


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Maria Cure
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