A Swiss court last year ordered an international arrest warrant for the uncle of Syria President Bashar Assad for war crimes allegedly committed in the 1980s, according to the ruling only published today.
The decision was published a year after Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court ordered the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) to issue the warrant.
The office of the Swiss attorney general had asked that the ruling be kept secret for fear that Rifaat Assad might take measures to dodge arrest, the Keystone-ATS news agency reports.
The attorney general’s office had already in 2021 requested the issuance of an international arrest warrant for the 85-year-old, but the justice ministry had balked, arguing Switzerland did not have jurisdiction to pursue him.
At the time, it pointed out that he was neither a Swiss citizen nor residing in the country, and that no Swiss citizens were among the victims of the 1982 massacre in the Syrian city of Hama, which the accusations center around.
But the court did not share that interpretation, highlighting that Rifaat Assad had been staying at a Geneva hotel when Swiss prosecutors first launched their investigation into him in 2013.
The warrant is meanwhile likely to go unheeded: The younger brother of former Syrian president Hafez Assad returned to Syria in 2021, after 37 years in exile.
The complaint against Rifaat Assad was first filed a decade ago by TRIAL International, a rights group that works with victims and pushes Switzerland to prosecute alleged international criminals.
TRIAL said that much of the evidence it had compiled against him relates to his role in suppressing the 1982 Hama rebellion, where thousands of people were estimated to have been killed.
He was at the time in command of the Syrian Defense Forces, which is accused of “executions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture on an unimaginable scale,” according to TRIAL, citing estimates that as many as 40,000 people were killed in the span of three weeks.