[JURIST] A group of German lawyers on Monday announced the filing of charges against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, alleging that he committed war crimes in Aleppo. As Germany has the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to sue foreigners for international crimes, they are allowing the suit on that ground. The lawyers, citing reports from Amnesty International [advocacy website], allege [Zeit report, in German] that there is overwhelming evidence that Assad has committed war crimes such as bombings of hospitals, attacks on civilians, and forced expulsions [AP report]. One lawyer was quoted saying that “[w]e’re experiencing genocide in Aleppo in slow motion.”
The conflict in Syria [JURIST backgrounder] has continued more than five years in a civil war surrounding the legitimacy of Assad. For much of that time attacks have taken place on humanitarian convoys, medical facilities and other forms of critical civilian aid. Earlier this year Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected suggestions [JURIST report] that his country could face war crimes charges because of its role in the airstrikes in Aleppo, Syria, primarily responding to remarks from French President François Hollande that the airstrikes were tantamount to war crimes. Earlier the same week French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stated [JURIST report] that France intends to pursue avenues for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to initiate an investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by Syrian and Russian forces in Aleppo. Last month US Secretary of State John Kerry made a similar call [JURIST report] for an investigation into the alleged war crimes of Russia and Syria in Aleppo. In September the EU called attacks in Aleppo a “breach of international humanitarian law” [JURIST report], denouncing the targeting of a humanitarian convoy hit by an airstrike the week prior. That same month the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria urged parties in the Syrian conflict to return to the “negotiation table” after a new report highlighted an increase of violence suffered by civilians [JURIST report]. The report noted that along with summary executions, forced displacement, and indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes the Syrian people lack sufficient access to life-saving medical services.