Episode 89 – The Syria / Europe Connection with Hope Rikkelman and Fritz Streiff

Stephanie van den Berg (top left) and Janet Anderson (top right), speak with Hope Rikkelman (bottom left) and Fritz Streiff (bottom right).

This week we take a look at the new developments in several court cases seeking to prosecute atrocities committed during Syria’s civil war.

Across Europe, a series of cases have been brought in national courts, including Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and France, where alleged perpetrators are being brought to justice under local laws.

In the Netherlands, the district court of the Hague has begun its criminal case against a 35-year-old Syrian man known as Mustafa A. He is accused of committing war crimes and complicity in torture as a member of the regime-backed criminal organisation Liwa Al Quds in Syria. It’s considered a landmark case, marking the first time that Syrian regime crimes will be on trial before a Dutch court. And just a few days ago, another Syrian man was arrested by the International Crimes Team of the Dutch National Police on suspicion among other things, of sexual violence as a crime against humanity.

The first criminal trial worldwide against a Syrian regime official began in Germany in 2020. In 2022 the Koblenz trial found the main defendant, Anwar Raslan, guilty of participating in crimes against humanity, orchestrated and executed by the Assad regime.  

And just last month in France, judges issued arrest warrants for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad, and two other senior officials over the use of banned chemical weapons against civilians.

For victims of Syria’s civil war, these courts are providing an alternative pathway to justice, without having to rely only on the international courts – and of course, we also discuss the significance of the recent provisional measures ruling by the International Court of Justice on torture – that have often hit roadblocks in attempting to prosecute Syrian atrocities.

We discuss these cases with Hope Rikkelman, director of the Yazidi Legal Network and the head of The Nuhanovic Foundation, and Fritz Streiff, a human rights lawyer also at the Nuhanovic Foundation.

In this week’s recommendations, we of course suggest you listen and follow along to Fritz’s podcast The Syria Trials, for all you need to know about the various trials related to crimes committed by the Syrian regime. On a lighter note, Hope recommends the Dutch book ‘De bus uit Mostar’ by Gerben van ‘t Hek and Rens Lieman, while Fritz finds hope and solace in the poem ‘The Just’ by Jorge Luis Borges.

This podcast has been produced as part of a partnership with JusticeInfo.net, an independent website in French and English covering justice initiatives in countries dealing with serious violence. It is a media outlet of Fondation Hirondelle, based in Lausanne, Switzerland