An attempt to hold Iranian and Assad regime military officials accountable for war crimes they may have committed in Syria is being launched, as part of an effort to have the cases brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The request was brought by the US-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in conjunction with Haydee Dijkstal, a UK barrister. It includes evidence of Syrian victims forced to flee into Jordan due to attacks and intimidation by the Assad regime and Iran-backed militia groups.
The lawyers represent civilians, including Syrian journalists, who were targeted between 2011 and 2018 for their professional journalistic activities and for their actual and perceived opposition activities.
The claim suggests they felt forced to flee in the face of indiscriminate bombardments and shootings, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, beatings and other abuses, search operations and violent repression of the right to free expression including civilian reporters and activists. It says Iran-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, the Liwa Fatemiyoun and Liwa Abu Fadl Al-Abbas attacked their towns and cities alongside armed forces of the Assad regime.
It is the first time Iranian officials have been targeted for their criminal activity in Syria. The development is further part of a growing effort to make regime officers and others legally accountable for their actions either at the ICC or in national European courts, including in Germany and France.
Gissou Nia, a lawyer on the legal team making the request, said: “Up until now, little public attention has been paid to the legal responsibility of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the decade-long Syrian conflict, despite the significant intervention of Iranian officials in Syria and perpetuation of atrocities.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has provided a vast range of military and non-military support to achieve its objectives, chiefly to prevent the fall of Bashar al-Assad at any cost. Unfortunately, that goal has been fought at the cost of hundreds of thousands of killed, injured and displaced Syrian civilians.”
Syria is not a party to the ICC’s Rome Statute, but it is argued the ICC has jurisdiction because the victims fled into Jordan, which is a state party.
Article 7(1)(d) of the Rome Statute grants the court jurisdiction over the crime against humanity of “deportation or forcible transfer of population”, meaning the “forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law”.
The ICC will make a preliminary decision prior to launching an investigation. There is no deadline by which the ICC must decide.