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France rights groups seek to freeze Syria president al-Assad's foreign assets

Two French rights groups have filed a complaint with the Prosecutors Office of Paris against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] in order to determine whether he or members of his entourage have assets in France. Transparency International France and SHERPA [advocacy websites] said they filed the complaint [press release, in French] in order to freeze all of the assets in France that can be connected to al-Assad and stop them from being transferred to other jurisdictions to avoid judgment liability. The groups said that making sure the Syrian people receive restitution for the assets stolen by corrupt leaders is a fundamental part of the UN Convention Against Corruption [text, PDF; UNODC backgrounder]. They complain that the current asset freeze by the EU does not cover assets held for al-Assad by others in a possible corruption conspiracy. The group pointed to similar complaints against former Tunisian president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] that have led to criminal investigations for allegations of money laundering.

Syria has been struggling to reform amidst widespread protests, and al-Assad has come under international scrutiny for using force to control demonstrators. Earlier this week, a US State Department [official website] spokesman called the Syrian response "barbaric" [AFP report], while Secretary of State Hilary Clinton [official profile] said the al-Assad had lost legitimacy. Last week, two UN rights officials expressed concern [JURIST report] over reports of violence used by Syrian authorities against the country's own people. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Francis Deng [official profile, PDF] and Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Edward Luck [academic profile] stated that reports of Syrian forces killing or arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters indicate potentially grievous violations of international human rights laws, and urged officials to adhere to the government's 2005 pledge to protect its citizens. On Sunday, the Syrian government approved a draft law [JURIST report] that would allow the formation of political parties to oppose the ruling Baath Party, led by al-Assad, that would permit a political party to be established so long as it is not based on religious or tribunal lines and does not discriminate based on ethnicity, gender or race. Critics say al-Assad has achieved little reform despite promises [JURIST report].

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