White Helmets rescuers treat victims of the Assad regime’s sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria, April 4, 2017
NGOs have filed a criminal complaint in a German court over the Assad regime’s sarin attacks in Syria.
After a two-year investigation, the Justice Initiative, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the Syrian Archive submitted the lawsuit and dossier of evidence to a federal public prosecutor in Karlsruhe on Monday.
The NGOs examined two regime attacks with the nerve agent: on the East Ghouta region near Damascus in August 2013, killing more than 1,400 people, and on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria, killing about 90 people and wounding hundreds.
The Assad regime escaped formal blame for the East Ghouta attacks because Syria was not a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found the regime culpable for the Khan Sheikhoun assault.
The UN-OPCW finding, in October 2017, led Russia into a Security Council veto to block further investigations that could assign blame. However, a vote of OPCW state members in June 2018 established an Investigations and Identification Team, which is currently examining sarin and chlorine attacks. They include the killing of 43 people in Douma, near Damascus, with chorine in April 2018.
The UN and OPCW have documented almost 40 sarin and chlorine attacks carried out by the regime since 2014.
Russia and the Assad regime, supported by pro-Assad activists, have pursued a years-long campaign of disinformation to avoid any attribution of blame. Last week Moscow rented a room in the UN for a day-long event denying the Douma attack and criticizing the OPCW.
But the UN and OPCW reaffirmed in April, and again in July, that the Assad regime had carried out the deadly chemical warfare against civilians.
The NGOs assembled evidence from witnesses now living in Germany, interviews and documents provided by regime defectors, and UN and open source investigative material. The material identifies regime and military officials who oversaw the attacks.
Mazen Darwish, the President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and a former political prisoner, said:
The people of Syria have been repeatedly failed by international mechanisms and institutions which have not stopped the bloodshed or held criminals in Bashar al-Assad’s regime responsible for their actions.
This is a significant new step which shows the Syrian people refuse to accept these failures. Cases brought in European courts are an alternative tool in our search for justice….There can be no peace without justice.
Earlier this year, the first trial of regime officials for war crimes began in Koblenz in western Germany.
Former intelligence officer Anwar Raslan is charged with charged with 58 murders, including rape and sexual violence. Eyad al-Gharib is charged with arranging the torture of at least 30 opposition activists arrested after a demonstration in 2011.