Syrian general's trial for alleged war crimes begins in Sweden

Mohammed Hamo is alleged to have taken part in 'indiscriminate attacks' on civilians

Destruction in the city of Homs in 2012, a year into Syria's civil war. AFP
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The trial of a former high-ranking Syrian military officer on charges relating to the country’s civil war has begun in Sweden.

Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo is accused of "aiding and abetting" war crimes including “indiscriminate attacks” on the towns of Hama and Homs in 2012.

The 65-year-old now lives in Sweden and faces a possible life sentence if convicted after his trial, which is expected to last until the end of next month.

The war in Syria between Bashar Al Assad's regime and armed opposition groups erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.

Aida Samani, senior legal adviser at the Civil Rights Defenders group, which has been gathering evidence relating to the Syrian civil war, said the attacks around the two towns resulted in “widespread civilian harm and an immense destruction of civilian properties”.

"This trial is important because it’s the first time that anyone from the Syrian government or the Syrian army is actually put on trial for the attacks that took place,” said Ms Samani.

According to the charge sheet, Mr Hamo contributed through "advice and action" to the Syrian army's tactics, "which systematically involved indiscriminate attacks on several towns or places in the area in and around the towns of Hama and Homs".

The former officer allegedly helped with the co-ordination and supply of arms to units, enabling the carrying out of orders at an "operational level".

Prosecutors say the Syrian army's "warfare has included widespread air and ground attacks by unknown perpetrators within the Syrian army" and argue strikes were carried out without distinction, as required by international law, between civilian and military targets.

This trial will be the first in Europe "to address these types of indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army", said Ms Samani, and "will be the first opportunity for victims of the attacks to have their voices heard in an independent court".

Eight plaintiffs filed the case against Mr Hamo, including a man whose brother was killed in the attacks on Homs, as well as a British photographer and a French journalist who were injured in an attack on the city’s media centre.

Little is known about Mr Hamo other than he defected from the Syrian army in July 2012 and joined those fighting to remove Mr Al Assad from power.

He lived in central Sweden until he was arrested over his supposed participation in war crimes on December 7, 2021.

A court at the time released him two days later, saying there was not enough evidence to keep him incarcerated and he has since been free. His defence lawyer, Mari Kilman, said her client maintained his innocence.

Mr Hamo's trial follows the conviction of former intelligence officer Anwar Raslan.

Raslan was jailed for life in Germany for crimes against humanity in the first global trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria.

Intelligence official Eyad Al Gharib became the first person to be convicted over state-sponsored torture by the Assad government, also after a trial in Germany.

Syria's former vice president Rifaat Al Assad is to be subject of a war crimes trial in Switzerland, where he is accused of war crimes committed in 1982. It is alleged he ordered the deaths of about 60,000 civilians in Hama, Syria, but he will be tried in absentia.

France has issued an international arrest warrant for the Syrian President himself, who stands accused of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over chemical attacks in 2013.

Three other international warrants were also issued for the arrests of his brother Maher, the de facto chief of the Fourth Division, an elite military unit of the Syrian army, and two generals.

Sweden has also put on trial an Iranian official for his part in the mass execution of as many as 5,000 prisoners in 1988.

Hamid Noury, 62, was found guilty in 2022 of murder and a serious crime against international law and his conviction and life sentence were upheld by a court at the end of last year.

Updated: April 15, 2024, 12:38 PM