Saturday

28th Jan 2023

EU should stop sheltering Syrian war criminals, MEPs say

  • The war began 10 years ago, when Syria tried to put down anti-regime protests by the country's Sunni Muslim majority (Photo: REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail)

The European Parliament has urged EU states to go after alleged Syrian war criminals in Europe, 10 years after the start of the bloodiest war in its neighbourhood.

"Persons responsible for core international crimes must be duly prosecuted, including by EU member states ... [as] lack of accountability provides a breeding ground for further atrocities," the parliament said in a non-binding resolution adopted last week.

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Capitals should "automatically share at EU level information on war criminal suspects under Article 1F of the Geneva Convention", the MEPs said, referring to a clause in the 1949 international treaty which excludes war-crimes suspects from asylum-seekers' privileges.

They should each appoint a special prosecutor dealing with Syria, while "better-equipped" states should "share their experts and interpreters" with others to facilitate prosecutions.

Member states and the EU should also give more money and legal training to Syrian diaspora groups hunting for suspects in Europe, while EU institutions should develop an "an EU action plan on impunity, with a specific chapter on Syria", the MEPs said.

"It is in Europe's interest to help resolve a conflict at our doorstep. Syria is also an issue for all of us," Nathalie Loiseau, a French liberal MEP who was the rapporteur on the resolution, told press.

"Accountability for all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is of utmost importance," the head of the EU foreign service, Josep Borrell, also said on Sunday.

The war has created 5.2 million refugees, many of whom are living in Turkey on the EU's doorstep, and displaced 6.2 million more, Borrell noted.

It has cost the EU €24 billion in aid, he noted.

It has also cost the death of 230,000 Syrian civilians, the vast majority of whom (88 percent) were killed by regime forces, the parliament resolution said.

And "the conflict ... is far from over", Borrell added, while promising to roll over EU sanctions against regime members in May.

The call for better EU cooperation on bringing 'F1' suspects to justice comes after a German regional court convicted 'Eyad A.', a Syrian intelligence officer, of taking part in killings on "an almost industrial scale" in February.

It was the first time an EU state had gone after the Syrian regime in this way, despite numerous complaints on other criminals hiding in Europe by diaspora groups and by European NGOs, such as the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights in Germany.

France, the Netherlands, and Sweden have also led the way in pursuing Syrian suspects.

The MEPs' resolution welcomed the creation of a Franco-German "joint investigative team" under the auspices of Europol, the EU's joint police agency in The Hague, to look into reports of torture in Syrian jails.

It also welcomed France and Germany's use of international arrest warrants in the past.

And British police, for its part, last week initiated proceedings against Syria's first lady, Asma al-Assad, in proceedings which could see her stripped of British nationality in absentia.

But in other cases, lack of EU cooperation has severely let down victims of the slaughter.

When France rejected an asylum claim by Syrian brigadier general Khaled Halabi, an intelligence commander, under the 'F1' Geneva Convention clause some five years ago, for instance, Halabi fled to Austria to avoid prosecution by the French War Crimes Unit.

He did so with the help of Austrian and Israeli intelligence services, who saw him as an asset, according to an investigation by British newspaper The Telegraph.

And Halabi, who was accused of murder, torture, and sexual violence, including against children, ended up getting Austrian protection, a flat in Vienna, and a €5,000 a month stipend.

France also tried to use Europol to track him down in 2017 and 2018, but Austrian police said they could not find him.

And his current whereabouts in Europe remain unknown, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in December last year.

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