Top Syrian Officer Faces War Crimes Charges in Swedish Court 

The Stockholm District Court is pictured on April 15, 2024, as the main hearing against the former Syrian brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, who stands accused of aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria in 2012, starts here. (Photo by Oscar OLSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) /
The Stockholm District Court is pictured on April 15, 2024, as the main hearing against the former Syrian brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, who stands accused of aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria in 2012, starts here. (Photo by Oscar OLSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) /
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Top Syrian Officer Faces War Crimes Charges in Swedish Court 

The Stockholm District Court is pictured on April 15, 2024, as the main hearing against the former Syrian brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, who stands accused of aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria in 2012, starts here. (Photo by Oscar OLSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) /
The Stockholm District Court is pictured on April 15, 2024, as the main hearing against the former Syrian brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, who stands accused of aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria in 2012, starts here. (Photo by Oscar OLSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) /

The highest-ranking Syrian military official to be tried in Europe on Monday appeared before a Stockholm court accused of war crimes during Syria's civil war.

Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, is accused of "aiding and abetting" war crimes and could get a life jail sentence.

The war between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and armed opposition groups, including ISIS, erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.

It has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged Syria's economy and infrastructure.

Wearing a dark blue shirt, jeans and sneakers, Hamo listened carefully and took notes as prosecutor Karolina Wieslander read out the charges.

Wieslander said Hamo had contributed -- through "advice and action" -- to the Syrian army's warfare, which "systematically included attacks carried out in violation of the principles of distinction, caution and proportionality."

"The warfare was thus indiscriminate," Wieslander told the court.

The charges concern the period of January 1 to July 20, 2012. The trial is expected to last until late May.

'Disproportionate'

The prosecutor said the Syrian army's "widespread air and ground attacks" caused damage "at a scale that was disproportionate in view of the concrete and immediate general military advantages that could be expected to be achieved."

In his role as brigadier general and head of an armament division, Hamo allegedly helped coordinate and supply of arms to units.

Hamo's lawyer, Mari Kilman, told the court her client denied criminal responsibility.

"In any case he has not had the intent towards the main charge, that indiscriminate warfare would be carried out by others," Kilman said.

Kilman said the officer could not be held liable for the actions "as he had acted in a military context and had to follow orders."

Hamo also denied all individual charges and argued that Syrian law should be applied.

Several plaintiffs are to testify at the trial, including Syrians from cities that were attacked and a British photographer who was injured during one strike.

'Complete impunity'

"The attacks in and around Homs and Hama in 2012 resulted in widespread civilian harm and an immense destruction of civilian properties," Aida Samani, senior legal advisor at rights group Civil Rights Defenders, told AFP.

"The same conduct has been repeated systematically by the Syrian army in other cities across Syria with complete impunity."

This trial will be the first in Europe "to address these types of indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army", according to Samani, who added that it "will be the first opportunity for victims of the attacks to have their voices heard in an independent court".

Hamo is the highest-ranking military official to go on trial in Europe, though other countries have tried to bring charges against more senior members.

In March, Swiss prosecutors charged Rifaat al-Assad, an uncle of President Bashar al-Assad, with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, it remains unlikely Rifaat al-Assad -- who recently returned to Syria after 37 years in exile -- will show up for the trial, for which a date has yet to be set.

Swiss law allows for trials in absentia under certain conditions.

In November, France issued an international arrest warrant for Bashar al-Assad, accusing him of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over chemical attacks in 2013.

Three other international warrants were also issued for the arrests of Bashar al-Assad's brother Maher, the de-facto chief of the army's elite Fourth Division and two generals.

In January 2022, a German court sentenced former colonel Anwar Raslan to life jail for crimes against humanity. This was the first international trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria and was hailed by victims as a victory for justice.



Yemen’s Central Bank Tightens Grip on Foreign Transfers

Yemen’s Central Bank. (Government media)
Yemen’s Central Bank. (Government media)
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Yemen’s Central Bank Tightens Grip on Foreign Transfers

Yemen’s Central Bank. (Government media)
Yemen’s Central Bank. (Government media)

Yemen’s Central Bank, based in Aden, the interim capital, has tightened its grip on foreign money transfers, requiring all transactions to go through approved banks and exchange companies.

Banks and exchange companies must operate mainly from Aden and grant local entities permission to handle transactions. Moreover, they must deliver remittances in the received currency without converting unless the client requests otherwise.

This step aims to better regulate financial flows amidst Yemen’s challenging economic situation.

The decision strengthens the Central Bank’s control in Aden by requiring all banks and exchange companies in Houthi-held areas to get approval before conducting transactions.

It also ensures that transfers are made in the original currency, unlike what the Houthis are doing now, withholding transfers in US dollars. This comes just two days before the deadline for banks to move their main offices from Houthi-controlled Sanaa to the interim capital.

According to Yemeni financial expert Wahid Al-Fudai, the Central Bank’s decision aims to regulate international money transfers through remittance companies and tighten control over them.

Al-Fudai sees this decision as part of the bank’s efforts to regulate banks and exchange companies according to local laws, serving the public interest, and keeping up with global trends.

He explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that the Central Bank had previously issued instructions regarding financial networks, emphasizing the need for its oversight over external transfers.

He stressed that only qualified and licensed institutions are allowed to conduct these transfers, meeting all requirements for compliance with international standards, especially in combating money laundering and terrorism financing.

Al-Fudai highlighted the importance of this step, especially with the Iran-backed Houthi militias now labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States and Australia, which could lead to further complications requiring the Central Bank’s attention.