In a shocking turn of events, France has issued an arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This news comes amidst long-simmering tensions between France and Syria over Assad’s ongoing brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters. The warrant, issued by the Paris’ public prosecutor’s office, comes as France looks to hold the Syrian leader accountable for his war crimes against his own people.
The charges brought against Assad by the French prosecutor’s office include “crimes against humanity,” which the government claims were committed during the six-year conflict. The French prosecution also accused the Syrian government of committing war crimes, alleging that its forces unlawfully killed, tortured and unlawfully detained civilians during the civil war.
This is not the first time France has attempted to hold Assad accountable for his actions. In May 2018, France considered invoking the principle of universal jurisdiction to charge Syrian officials for their involvement in the civil war. To date, however, France has yet to bring any charges against the Syrian leader.
Since the civil war began in 2011, the United Nations has repeatedly warned Assad and his government that they will be held accountable for their actions. In 2013, The U.N. issued a report that asserted Syrian government forces “have committed the crimes against humanity of murder and of torture, war crimes and gross violations of international human rights law.”
The warrant for Assad’s arrest comes at a time when international efforts to hold Syria to account are intensifying. In September, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized a formal investigation into the conflict in Syria. The ICC findings will include investigations into war crimes committed by both the Syrian government and rebel forces.
It remains to be seen what the French arrest warrant for Assad will mean for peace negotiations in Syria. The country’s civil war has been one of the deadliest in modern times, and is estimated to have claimed the lives of over 500,000 people. Any lasting peace, however, will require that those responsible for the atrocities and war crimes be held to account for their actions. The French arrest warrant may be a step in that direction.