Syrians are marking 10 years since peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government erupted in 2011.
Four NGOs have announced they have filed a criminal complaint in Sweden against members of the Syrian government, including President Bashar al-Assad, over chemical weapons attacks in 2013 and 2017.
In the complaint filed with Swedish police, the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Civil Rights Defenders, Syrian Archive (SA), and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) accuse Syrian officials of chemical attacks using sarin gas, in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib probvince in 2017 and Ghouta near the capital Damascus in 2013.
“By filing the complaint, we want to support the victims’ struggle for truth and justice,” Hadi al-Khatib, founder and director of Syrian Archive, said in a statement.
“We hope that a Swedish investigation into these crimes will eventually result in trials and convictions of those who ordered and carried out these attacks. Sweden can and should contribute to putting an end to the current state of impunity in Syria,” he added.
Allegations of war crimes can be investigated by Swedish police regardless of where they were committed.
The Syrian government denies ever using chemical weapons against its own civilians in the course of conflict with rebel forces.
The conflict, which began in 2011, has largely subsided with Assad having regained control of most key territory with Russian and Iranian military support.
According to the complaint, the Syrian government used chemical weapons in attacks on the opposition-held towns of Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. Hundreds of civilians, including children, were killed.
“In the ten years since the first assaults on pro-democracy protesters in Syria, the government has used chemical weapons more than 300 times to terrorise the civilian population,” said Steve Kostas, a lawyer at the Justice Initiative.
“Swedish authorities can join their counterparts in France and Germany to jointly investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria and demonstrate that there will be no impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes,” he said in a statement.
A United Nations-commissioned investigation to identify those behind chemical attacks in Syria concluded in 2017 that Syrian government forces had used chlorine and sarin gas.
The first trial of suspected members of Assad’s security services for crimes against humanity, including torture and sexual assault, began in a German court in April 2020.
Meanwhile, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will decide this week whether to impose unprecedented sanctions on Syria for its alleged use of toxic arms and failure to declare its arsenal.
Member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will weigh a French proposal to suspend Syria’s “rights and privileges” at the body, including its ability to vote.
Damascus is accused of failing to answer key questions after an OPCW probe last year found Syria attacked a rebel-held village with the nerve agent sarin and the toxic chemical chlorine in 2017.
Syria has rejected all the allegations and said the attacks were staged.
Damascus and its ally Moscow have accused Western powers of using the OPCW for a “politicised” campaign against them.