Joint Statement on French Investigation of Syria’s President Assad for Chemical Weapons Attacks

We are Syrian and international civil society organizations and victims’ associations (see below) united in our call for justice and accountability for the survivors and victims of chemical attacks in Syria.

NGOs have documented hundreds of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have conducted detailed investigations into a limited number of attacks and repeatedly identified the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, as the perpetrator. These constitute clear violations of international law, including international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and international human rights law.

We commend the efforts of French judges investigating the chemical attacks on civilians in Douma and Eastern Ghouta in August 2013, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians.

The investigating judges found there is a sufficient basis to issue arrest warrants for four senior officials in Syria’s government for alleged responsibility for the attacks: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, his brother Major General Maher al-Assad, the de facto leader of the 4th Armoured Division, as well as General Ghassan Abbas, the Director of Branch 450 of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), and General Bassam al-Hasan, the Presidential Advisor for Strategic Affairs and liaison officer between the Presidential Palace and the SSRC.

The arrest warrants for Bashar al-Assad and other officials are a significant advance in our collective efforts for accountability.

However, we strongly oppose the French National Anti-Terror Public Prosecutor’s Office decision to challenge the validity of the arrest warrant against Bashar al-Assad. The arrest warrants for the other officials are not contested and will remain in effect. The Public Prosecutor argues that as a sitting head of state, Bashar al-Assad is immune from trial and prosecution in France.

Heads of State have been understood to be immune before foreign domestic courts. Recent decades have seen an erosion of state immunities and functional immunities under international law to prevent impunity for international crimes, notably war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is now time to also challenge the personal immunity of the sitting head of state for international crimes. In the context of Syrian chemical attacks, the international community and the UN Security Council have repeatedly demanded that all perpetrators must be held accountable.

Ongoing impunity for these crimes only serves to perpetuate the cycle of violence and suffering for victims and survivors. It undermines the international rule of law.

This challenge by the Prosecutor’s Office is inconsistent with France’s leadership of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons—a coalition of over 40 states and the European Union. It also contradicts the French government’s consistent stance demanding accountability for all perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria. Most critically, it hampers the extraordinary efforts of victims and survivors who seek justice and redress through the French legal system.

We urgently call upon the French government to affirm its support for the independent judicial investigation of all those suspected of criminal responsibility for these atrocities, including Bashar al-Assad. The French government must make clear that it does not recognize Bashar al-Assad’s immunity for his role in chemical weapons attacks. France’s commitment to justice and the prohibition of chemical weapons must be unwavering.

Only through support for the French investigation and prosecution, and a concerted international effort to enforce the French arrest warrants, can there be redress for the victims, survivors, and their families. Only through support for the French investigation can the universal commitment to prohibit the use of chemical weapons and hold perpetrators accountable be effectively enforced.

We call on France to convey a resolute message to the world: the use of chemical weapons is forbidden, and all perpetrators will face justice.

1. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

2. Mnemonic / Syrian Archive

3. Open Society Justice Initiative

4. Civil Rights Defenders

5. Adalaty

6. Adel Centre For Human Rights

7. Afrin Platform

8. Al-Ameen for Humanitarian Support

9. Amal Healing and Advocacy Center

10. Amal Organization

11. Amnesty International

12. Association of Victims of Chemical Weapons (AVCW)

13. Ayn Al Madina

14. Caesar Families Association (CFA)

15. Center for Enforcement of Human Rights International

16. Center for Justice and Accountability

17. Chemical Violations Documentation Center and Research (CVDCR)

18. Child Guardians

19. DAR Association for Victims of Forced Displacement

20. Derina Organization

21. Do Not Suffocate Truth Campaign

22. European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

23. Families for Freedom Movement (FfF)

24. Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights

25. Free Syrian Lawyers Association (FSLA)

26. Guernica 37

27. Human Rights Guardians

28. Humanitarian Care Charity

29. HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement

30. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

31. International Commission of Jurists

32. International Federation for Human Rights

33. Jana Watan

34. Justice for Peace

35. Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights (LDHR)

36. Local Administration Councils’ Unit (LACU)

37. Local Development and Small-Projects Support (LDSPS)

38. Mahabad Organization for Human Rights “MOHR”

39. Mazaya Organization Women

40. Mizan Organisation for Legal Research and Human Rights

41. Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies

42. NAJOON Organization

43. Pro-justice


45. Sadad Humanitarian Organization

46. Sans Menottes

47. SEWAR Organization

48. Sobh Cultural Team

49. Synergy Association for Victims

50. Syria Spring Team

51. Syrian American Council

52. Syrian Center for Community Development (SCCD)

53. Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research (SCLSR)

54. Syrian Forum

55. Syrian Legal Development Programme (SLDP)

56. TASTAKEL Women’s Organization

57. The Syria Campaign

58. The White Helmets

59. TRIAL International

60. Union of Free Syrian Students

61. Union of Revolutionary Bureaus (URB)

62. Women Now for Development (WND)

63. Women’s Organization for Transitional Justice

64. Women’s Support and Empowerment Center in Idlib

65. Zoom-In Organization


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