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A Welcome Development: Rifaat Assad Charged With War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity and Referred for Trial for the Hama City Massacre of February 1982

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On March 11, 2024, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) issued charges of war crimes & crimes against humanity against Rifaat Assad for his involvement in the monstrous Hama city massacre that took place in February 1982. The list of charges includes issuing orders for committing crimes of murder, torture, cruel mistreatment, and unlawful arrest, in addition to cases of torture, sexual violence, and enforced disappearance, all of which took place during the siege on Hama city as part of a sweeping three-week offensive in February 1982. At the time, Rifaat Assad was Syria’s Vice-President under his brother, the then-President of the Syrian regime, Hafez Assad (father of the current president, Bashar Assad), and headed the now-dissolved ‘Saraya al-Difaa’ (Defense Companies), as well as being the chief commander of the military operation in Hama.

These charges come after the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland (FCC) and the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) issued an international arrest warrant for Rifaat Assad on Wednesday, August 16, 2023, in connection with his involvement in the serious war crimes committed in Hama city in February 1982. With the list of charges officially issued, Rifaat Assad’s trial in absentia will officially commence. This marks a landmark development, with Rifaat Assad being the most senior Syrian regime official to be referred to trial under the universal jurisdiction principle to date.

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