Netherlands arrests Syrian accused of torture under Assad regime

Prosecutors say he was an interrogator for a government-aligned militia in the west of the country

Dutch authorities have arrested a Syrian man over suspicions of torture. Reuters
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A Syrian man living in the Netherlands has been arrested on suspicion of crimes against humanity in his homeland, the Dutch public prosecution service said.

The man is believed to have led the interrogation department of the National Defence Forces, a militia aligned to the government of President Bashar Al Assad, in the western Syrian city of Salamiyah, from 2013 to 2014, the service said in a statement. It did not identify the man.

"The suspicion is that from this position, the man committed acts of torture and sexual violence against civilians," it said.

The man, 55, arrived in the Netherlands in July 2021, after which he received a temporary asylum permit. Following a tip, the International Crimes Team tracked him down.

It is the first time Dutch authorities have charged a suspect with sexual violence as a crime against humanity.

Under universal jurisdiction, the Netherlands can prosecute certain crimes even if they were committed abroad. Dutch courts have convicted several Syrian citizens of war crimes, including opposition figures and militia members.

Last month, France issued an international arrest warrant for Mr Al Assad after accusing him of being complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity over chemical attacks in 2013.

The Netherlands and Canada have also taken Syria to the top UN court, accusing Mr Al Assad's government of carrying out years of “institutionalised” torture against its own people.

The Netherlands is not the only country in Europe prosecuting crimes in Syria.

A German court convicted a former member of Mr Al Assad’s secret police for facilitating the torture of prisoners. The man was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced to 4 and a half years in prison.

In July, another German court convicted a Syrian man of torturing captives on half of ISIS. He was jailed for 11 years.

Three months earlier, France issued arrest warrants for three high-ranking Syrian intelligence officers accused of complicity in crimes against humanity, a case linked to a father and son who disappeared a decade ago.

With little prospect of the men being extradited to France, prosecutors said a trial could proceed without them.

Updated: December 08, 2023, 1:29 PM