Human rights groups urged President Emmanuel Macron on Friday to ensure France exercises the principle of “universal jurisdiction” and refuse protection to perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
The request came after a court ruled that it had a lack of jurisdiction to prosecute a Syrian war criminal.
In an open letter titled, “France should not be a land where torturers are not tried in Syria,” 11 organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights League (LDH), European Constitution and Human Rights Center (ECCHR), appealed to Macron to urgently amend the legal Code of Criminal Procedure to prosecute individuals living in France who are accused of war crimes in their country of origin.
It concerns the Nov. 24 ruling in the case of former Syrian intelligence officer Abdulhamid C, who has been imprisoned in France since January on torture and crimes against humanity charges.
Prosecutors said he was part of a state operation in notorious detention facilities where hundreds of prisoners were tortured, starved and left to die.
Horrific images of corpses in the prisons documenting systematic torture by Assad forces, were made public as the Caesar Files Group after being smuggled out by a former Syrian military police employee named “Caesar.”
The criminal chamber of the Court of Cassation said French courts lacked jurisdiction to prosecute Syrians living in France for committing war crimes in Syria because that country has not ratified the Rome Statute and its domestic laws do not sanction crimes against humanity.
The court ruled on the basis of Article 689-11 in the Code of Criminal Procedure, which gives jurisdiction to French courts “over a person habitually residing in France who has committed one of the offenses listed in the Rome Statute, provided that the offense is punishable in the state in which it was committed or in the state of the person's citizenship, if the state is a party to the Rome Statute.”
The letter said France has sent a “disastrous signal to all the executioners on the planet” with the ruling.
It asked Macron to commit to the assurances given by him as a presidential candidate to enforce the “application of universal jurisdiction.”
The French judiciary in 2010 adopted a law which in effect rendered that genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in countries that are not a party to the Rome Statute, the Establishment of the International Criminal Court, cannot be tried in France. Thereby making “the exercise of universal jurisdiction for the most serious crimes is made legally impossible,” said the letter.
France opened an investigation concerning crimes against humanity against Abdulhamid C in 2015 after he fled Syria and illegally entered France.
In 2019, he was arrested in Paris in a joint operation by France and Germany for his involvement in the Caesar Files.
Germany has prosecuted two former Syrian military intelligence agents involved in the Caesar Files on the principle of “universal justice.”/aa