Landmark Paris Trial of Syrian Officials Accused of Torturing, Killing a Father and His Son Starts

An aerial view shows the Conciergerie building (bottom R) and the Palais de Justice, or courthouse, on the Ile de la Cite along the river Seine in central Paris July 14, 2013. (Reuters)
An aerial view shows the Conciergerie building (bottom R) and the Palais de Justice, or courthouse, on the Ile de la Cite along the river Seine in central Paris July 14, 2013. (Reuters)
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Landmark Paris Trial of Syrian Officials Accused of Torturing, Killing a Father and His Son Starts

An aerial view shows the Conciergerie building (bottom R) and the Palais de Justice, or courthouse, on the Ile de la Cite along the river Seine in central Paris July 14, 2013. (Reuters)
An aerial view shows the Conciergerie building (bottom R) and the Palais de Justice, or courthouse, on the Ile de la Cite along the river Seine in central Paris July 14, 2013. (Reuters)

The landmark trial of three former Syrian intelligence officials began Tuesday at a Paris court for the alleged torture and killing of a French-Syrian father and son who were arrested over a decade ago, during the height of Arab Spring-inspired anti-government protests.

International warrants have been issued for the defendants, being tried in absentia.

The father Mazen Dabbagh and his son, Patrick, were arrested in the Syrian capital, Damascus, in 2013, following a crackdown on demonstrations that later turned into a brutal civil war, now in its 14th year. The probe into their disappearance started in 2015 when Obeida Dabbagh, Mazen’s brother, testified to investigators already examining war crimes in Syria.

The four-day hearings come as Syria's President Bashar Assad has started to shed his longtime status as a pariah that stemmed from the violence unleashed on his opponents. Human rights groups involved in the case hope it will refocus attention on alleged atrocities.

About 50 activists gathered near the Paris Criminal Court, chanting for “freedom” and in support of the disappeared and the dead.

If the three — Ali Mamlouk, former head of the National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, former Air Force intelligence director, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations for the service in Damascus — are convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison in France.

The first hearing on Tuesday invited several, including Ziad Majed, a Franco-Lebanese academic specializing in Syria, for “context testimonies" in front of three judges.

Majed shed light on the history of the Assad family’s rule since the early 1970s. “The three defendants are part of the Al-Assad system. I know their names; they are also famous in Lebanon,” he said, meaning they are well-known for being part of the Assad government.

After his two-hour testimony, Majed joined the demonstrators, calling for justice for the disappeared.

Arwad, a young Syrian girl who has lived in France since 2018, was not at the hearing but joined the rally. “We are refugees, we support freedom,” she said.

The Dabbagh family lawyer, Clemence Bectarte, from the International Federation for Human Rights, told The Associated Press she had high hopes for the trial.

“This trial represents immense hope for all Syrian victims who cannot attain justice. Impunity continues to reign in Syria, so this trial aims to bring justice to the family and echo the stories of hundreds of thousands of Syrian victims,” Bectarte said.

The brother, Obeida, is set to testify on Thursday, the third day of the trial. “I hope the responsible parties will be condemned. This could set a precedent for holding Assad accountable,” he told the AP. “Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died. Even today, some live in fear and terror.”

Brigitte Herremans, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, emphasized the trial’s significance despite the defendants' absence. “It’s very important that perpetrators from the regime side are held accountable, even if it’s mainly symbolic. It means a lot for the fight against impunity,” Herremans said.



UN Human Rights Chief: Unconscionable Death and Suffering Happening in Gaza

A child looks on as Palestinians search for missing people under the rubble of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike, at al-Nuseirat refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, 18 June 2024. (EPA)
A child looks on as Palestinians search for missing people under the rubble of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike, at al-Nuseirat refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, 18 June 2024. (EPA)
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UN Human Rights Chief: Unconscionable Death and Suffering Happening in Gaza

A child looks on as Palestinians search for missing people under the rubble of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike, at al-Nuseirat refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, 18 June 2024. (EPA)
A child looks on as Palestinians search for missing people under the rubble of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike, at al-Nuseirat refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, 18 June 2024. (EPA)

Palestinians in the Israeli occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are suffering a drastically worsening human rights environment, alongside "unconscionable death and suffering" in the Gaza Strip, the UN human rights chief said on Tuesday.

"The situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is dramatically deteriorating," Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The West Bank, where the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule under Israeli occupation, has seen the worst unrest for decades, in parallel with the war in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas.

Turk said that from the start of the Gaza war in October through mid-June, 528 Palestinians, 133 of them children, had been killed by Israeli security forces or settlers in the West Bank, in some cases raising "serious concerns of unlawful killings".

Twenty-three Israelis have been killed in the West Bank and Israel in clashes with or attacks by Palestinians, he said.

In Gaza, Turk said he was "appalled by the disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law" by parties to the war.

"Israel's relentless strikes in Gaza are causing immense suffering and widespread destruction, and the arbitrary denial and obstruction of humanitarian aid have continued," Turk said.

"Israel continues to detain arbitrarily thousands of Palestinians. This must not continue."

He added that Palestinian armed groups were continuing to hold hostages, including in populated areas, which put both the hostages and civilians at risk.

Israel's permanent mission to the UN in Geneva accused Turk of "completely omitting the cruelty and barbarity of terrorism" in his address to the UN Human Rights Council.

"Hostilities in Gaza are the direct result of Hamas terrorism, decades of rocket-fire and incitement against the Jewish people and the State of Israel, culminating in its brutal attacks against Israel on October 7," the diplomatic mission said in a statement.

Israel's ground and air campaign was triggered when Hamas-led fighters stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel's offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in Gaza, according to its health authorities, and left much of the enclave's population homeless.