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Report on Witness Testimonies in the 16 May Session in the Case of Mohamad Hamo at the Stockholm Court, with an Overview of Previous Sessions




By: Linda Osman, Lawyer and human rights activist.






Background of the Case

Mohamad Hamo, a former Syrian Brigadier General, is currently on trial at the Stockholm District Court on charges related to aiding and abetting war crimes during the Syrian conflict in 2012. Hamo is considered the highest-ranking Syrian military officer to be tried in a European court for crimes related to the Syrian conflict.


Hamo faces accusations of providing support and assistance in executing indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian properties in the cities of Homs, Hama, Al-Rastan, and Al-Houla. The charges pertain to his role as the head of the armament unit in the 11th Division of the Third Corps of the Syrian Army between January and July 2012. It is alleged that the attacks, which included aerial and ground bombardments, were disproportionate and did not distinguish between civilians and combatants, resulting in significant loss of life and property.


According to the prosecution, Hamo was responsible for coordinating and supplying weapons for military operations and played a key role in strategic decision-making. The charges indicate that Hamo contributed to the operational capability of the 11th Division, leading to indiscriminate attacks.


In July 2012, Hamo defected from the Syrian army and left Syria. He has lived in Sweden since his defection until his arrest in December 2021 but was released due to insufficient evidence at the time.


The trial against him began on April 15, 2024, at the Stockholm District Court and is expected to continue until May 23, 2024. So far, the following sessions have been held:


The trial commenced with the prosecution's statement of facts on 15, 16, and 17 April, followed by the opening arguments from the plaintiff’s attorney and the defense attorney on 22 April.


The first hearing for the plaintiffs took place on 22 April , followed by hearings on 23, 24, and 25 April.


The defendant’s hearing was held on 29 April.


The first witness session took place on May 3, followed by additional witness hearings on 6, 7, 8, 13, and 16 May.


Brief Summary of the Prosecution's Opening Argument on 15, 16, and 17 April 

Judge Jakob Hedinmo opened the session by introducing the participants and explaining the structure of the court and the details of the indictment. The trial schedule was briefly reviewed.


The prosecution presented the indictment, highlighting the indiscriminate attacks carried out by Syrian forces in Homs, Hama, Al-Rastan, and Al-Houla between January and July 2012. The defendant, as the head of the armament unit in the 11th Division, was accused of aiding and abetting these attacks by supplying weapons and participating in strategic decision-making.


The plaintiff’s attorney, Degol Mbai, supported the indictment, seeking compensation for psychological, material, and physical damages. Defense attorney Marie Kilman responded by denying the defendant’s charges, citing his adherence to military orders and lack of intent to commit crimes.


The prosecution outlined the legal framework applicable to the case, reviewing principles of international humanitarian law and emphasizing the need to prove the existence of an armed conflict and the linkage of actions to the conflict. They cited international reports to confirm the existence of the conflict in Syria since 2011, pointing to indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilians.

For full details, visit Civil Rights Defenders- Report 2


Brief Summary of the opening statement by the Defense Counsel and Plaintiff Counsel in the 22 April Session

In the April 22 session, the plaintiff’s attorney Degol Mbai delivered an opening argument, outlining the legal framework based on the Rome II Regulation. He explained the application of Syrian law to the entitlement to compensation as it is the law of the country where the damage occurred, as stipulated in Article 1.4 of the Rome II Regulation. Mbai detailed the calculation of compensation according to Syrian law, emphasizing the differences from Swedish law and the need to adjust for high inflation rates in the calculation process.


Defense attorney Marie Kilman denied all charges against her client, asserting that he acted under military orders without criminal intent. Kilman presented evidence supporting her client’s position, including reports from the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) and asylum interviews showing his fear of returning to Syria. Kilman stressed that the defendant’s role was administrative and did not directly influence strategic military decisions.

For full details, visit Civil Rights Defenders- Report 3


Brief Summary of Plaintiff Testimonies in the 22 - 26 April Sessions 

During sessions held between April 22 and 26, plaintiffs 1 and 5 requested closed hearings, while plaintiffs 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 publicly testified about their experiences and suffering during the Syrian conflict.


Plaintiff 2, who served in the 11th Division, described the organizational structure of the Syrian army and the indiscriminate shelling that destroyed his home in Al-Rastan. Plaintiff 3 recounted peaceful demonstrations in Homs and the indiscriminate shooting by security forces, which led to the destruction of her home. Plaintiff 4 detailed the shelling in Homs and the damage to his residence. Plaintiff 6, a British photographer, spoke about the violence in Baba Amr and his injuries from the shelling. Plaintiff 7, a translator, described indiscriminate violence and shelling targeting the media center in Baba Amr. Plaintiff 8, a French journalist, shared her experience in Baba Amr and her injuries from the indiscriminate shelling on civilians.


Expert witness Iman Shahoud testified about Syrian law and compensation mechanisms, noting that the Syrian Civil Code on damages encompasses all crimes without exception, according to Article 831 of the Syrian Penal Code. To file a compensation claim, a criminal act by the perpetrator and a direct link between the act and the resulting damages must be proven.

For full details, visit Civil Rights Defenders- Report 4


Brief Summary of Defendant Mohamad Hamo's Testimonies in the 29 April  and 6 May Sessions 

The defendant’s hearings were held on April 29 and May 6, where he was allowed to clarify his stance on the criminal charges against him. In his opening statement, the defendant asserted that he fled the Syrian army, expressing his discontent with the actions against anti-Assad protesters. He explained that his delayed defection was due to the repressive atmosphere within the Syrian army, which stifled dissent through threats to the lives of defectors. Upon finding an opportunity that did not endanger his and his family’s lives, he executed his decision to defect.


During the session, the defendant emphasized his lack of influence over decision-making within the Syrian military hierarchy, highlighting his identity as a Sunni Muslim in an Alawite-dominated army, which weakened his authority and role as a high-ranking military officer. He also clarified that his role as head of the armament unit was purely administrative and did not grant him decision-making power.


During the prosecution’s cross-examination, maps illustrating the geographical jurisdiction of the 11th Division were presented. The defendant explained the operational locations of various brigades within the 11th Division, affirming their positions in Homs and Hama. The prosecution discussed the role of the armament unit within the military structure, and the defendant stated that the unit operated within its scope of responsibility without knowledge of field events. The focus was on the defendant’s awareness of the quantities of weapons and ammunition used, to which the defendant responded that he received requests to replenish ammunition without specific details about the operations. The prosecution pointed to documents supporting his knowledge of the operations, but he denied any direct involvement in decision-making.


During the defense attorney’s cross-examination, the focus was on the reasons for the defendant’s transfer to another military position in June 2012. He explained that the transfer resulted from a lack of trust in him due to his religious affiliation, and this transfer provided him the opportunity to escape from the army. The defendant confirmed that he did not start working in the new position, allowing him time to arrange his departure from the country.

For full details, visit Civil Rights Defenders- Report 5


Brief Summary of Expert Witness Testimonies in the Trial of Mohamad Hamo in the 3 and 6 May

During the hearings on May 3 and 6, expert witnesses Philip DeGios, Ingmar Bengtsson, and Per Skoglund provided their testimonies on typical military structures.


Philip DeGios, an attorney specializing in international criminal law and a former officer in the Swedish Defense Forces, discussed the traditional structure of national armies, noting that functional units like the armament unit play a supportive role. DeGios explained that democratic and authoritarian armies differ in organization, especially regarding the inclusion of a political unit.


Ingmar Bengtsson, a former director at the Swedish Defense University, emphasized that the armament unit supports division management and the importance of information flow within the military structure. Per Skoglund, a teacher at the Swedish Defense University, highlighted the Russian influence on the Syrian army and the significance of centralized orders and information flow.


The three experts underscored the importance of military structure and the role of functional units in supporting operations, clarifying differences between democratic and authoritarian armies.

For full details, visit Civil Rights Defenders- Report 6 


Brief Summary of Four Witness Testimonies in the Trial of Mohamad Hamo in the 3,7 and 8 May sessions

In the sessions held on May 3, 7, and 8, witness testimonies were heard about the structure of the Syrian army and violent events in Syria. The prosecution presented testimonies from a defected Syrian officer that included information on the Syrian army’s structure and the 11th Division’s operations in Homs, confirming its involvement in the Al-Houla massacre and Baba Amr events. Another witness spoke about his experience defecting from the Syrian army in May 2011, pointing out the army’s targeting of civilians and use of heavy weapons in Homs and Baba Amr.


A third witness, a former driver in the 18th Division, detailed the division’s attacks on Baba Amr and involvement in targeting civilians and residential buildings. A fourth witness described his responsibilities as a guard for a brigade in the 18th Division and recounted the repressive operations carried out by the division, the 11th Division, and the Republican Guard against civilians. The head of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) provided information on collecting and documenting evidence related to crimes committed by the Syrian regime, while another witness spoke about his service at the 11th Division’s headquarters in Homs and hearing the city’s shelling, noting his lack of detailed knowledge about the structure and military orders.

For full details, visit Civil Rights Defenders- Report 7


Detailed Report on the Testimonies of Witnesses (Mohammad Talas, Hassan Ibrahim, Khaled Hassan) in the May 16 Witness Hearing:

(Attended and prepared by Adalaty Centre)


Witness Mohammad Talas

Mohammad Talas testified in the witness hearing on May 16, covering several topics related to his military service and experiences during the events in Homs between 2011 and 2012. 


Military Career

Mohammad Talas began his military service in the Syrian army in 2002 and continued until his defection in 2012. During this period, he lived in Damascus and served in the First Division, specifically in the 76th Brigade as an artillery battalion commander. Talas underwent three military training courses: a three-year non-commissioned officer course, followed by a six-month company commander training, and then a one-year battalion commander training.


Division Structure

Talas explained the organizational structure of the First Division, which comprises three armored brigades, an infantry brigade, an artillery regiment, an air defense battalion, a reconnaissance battalion, an engineering battalion, a signal battalion, and a service battalion. He clarified that these units provide operational support and are responsible for executing orders from the high command.


Order Distribution and Military Operations

Talas described how orders are distributed and executed, with orders issued by the high command and transmitted through the chain of command. The Chief of Staff directs orders to department heads, who then pass them on to field commanders. During military operations, field units receive regular support and supplies.


Mohammad pointed out that Syrian forces faced significant challenges in executing military attacks, as orders were often carried out without considering the actual field conditions. He also discussed how the army's logistical operations, such as distributing ammunition and other supplies, were routinely conducted through the military chain of command.


Events in Homs

Mohammad recounted the attacks carried out by the Syrian army on Homs in late 2011 and the first half of 2012, asserting that the attacks were indiscriminate and targeted civilians, leading to many deaths and injuries and extensive property destruction. He explained that the army used heavy artillery and tanks in these attacks and that the high command issued orders to carry out the attacks without prior warnings to civilians.


Discrimination within the Army and Defection

Mohammad, a Sunni Muslim, pointed to discrimination within the Syrian army, where Alawite officers were favored for leadership positions and received better information and resources than other officers. This systemic bias against Sunni officers like himself influenced his decision to defect. Additionally, Talas mentioned that the psychological and ethical pressures he faced due to the acts of repression and torture he witnessed against civilians were strong motivations for his decision to defect and seek safety outside Syria.


Defection and Escape

In conclusion, Talas discussed his decision to defect in 2012, initially attempting to hide in the village of Sheikh Idris in northern Syria for a period before fleeing to Europe in 2015. Talas confirmed that his experiences in the army and witnessing events in Syria were the main reasons behind his decision to defect.

 

Witness Hassan Ibrahim

Military Career

Hassan Ibrahim began his testimony by introducing himself, explaining that he is from Idlib province and lived in Hama for 5-6 years before joining the Syrian army. He served in the 47th Brigade, an armored brigade under the 11th Division. He began his military service in 2003 after undergoing one year of military training in Homs. During his service, Hassan was a tank driver within the 47th Brigade of the 11th Armored Division.


11th Division Structure

Hassan explained that the 11th Division is an armored division consisting of three armored brigades, an infantry brigade, and an independent artillery regiment. The division receives orders from the high command through a hierarchical chain and operates under a leader who receives orders directly from the Ministry of Defense. He noted the presence of sub-units such as the ammunition section, which manages ammunition and weapons within the brigades and regiment.


Events in Homs and Acts of Violence

Hassan Ibrahim detailed the events he witnessed in Homs, pointing out that the 11th Division was directed against civilians during the unrest that began in Syria in 2011. He explained that the armed forces began shooting at civilians in late 2011. Hassan stated that during that period, his unit was sent to the Al-Rastan area, which had already been besieged for three months.


Details of the Al-Rastan Attack

Hassan Ibrahim recounted details of the attack on Al-Rastan  in late 2011, indicating that the forces arrived at the area, which was already under full siege, at midnight. The forces included large numbers of tanks and armored vehicles, including T-72 tanks and Shilka armored vehicles, aimed at eliminating those described as terrorists. Hassan explained that the Shilka armored vehicle contains four cannons compared to regular tanks that have one cannon, making it more lethal in offensive operations.


During his presence in Al-Rastan, the forces received orders from the high command via radio to shoot civilians under the pretext that they were terrorists. Hassan refused to carry out one of these orders and informed the commanding officer of a tank malfunction as an excuse to avoid shooting civilians. Hassan confirmed that he witnessed civilians being targeted, including a man, a woman, and two children.


Hassan described the situation in Al-Rastan as being under complete siege, with forces receiving continuous supplies and reinforcements to increase pressure on the area. The forces were firing at anyone moving, regardless of identity or gender, resulting in many civilian casualties. He also mentioned witnessing unarmed civilians being targeted, confirming that these experiences had a deep psychological impact on him.


Hassan had a confrontation with another officer because he refused to participate in shooting civilians, leading to his being summoned for interrogation. Hassan explained that his refusal to follow military orders resulted from witnessing innocent civilians being attacked, compelling him to take a humanitarian stance despite severe consequences.


Arrest and Imprisonment

Hassan stated that he was arrested and imprisoned in 2012 after his confrontation with the officer. He spent about 18 months in prison before being released in July 2013. He spoke about the harsh conditions he endured during imprisonment and the pressures he faced due to his failure to follow orders. He pointed out that during his imprisonment, he underwent repeated interrogations and severe psychological pressure, being held in poor conditions and subjected to psychological and physical torture.


Events in Al-Rastan After His Arrest

Hassan mentioned that the situation in Al-Rastan did not improve after his arrest; on the contrary, military operations intensified in severity and brutality. He noted that forces targeted homes indiscriminately, resulting in widespread destruction and many civilian deaths. He explained that forces used intimidation tactics to terrorize residents and force them to flee their homes.

 

Witness Khaled Hassan

Background

Khaled was born in Homs and lived in an area near Baba Amr. He worked on a gas project and traveled regularly between Algeria and Syria. Between 2010 and 2011, he lived with his family in Homs.


Changes in Homs with the Start of the Revolution

Khaled described the changes he witnessed in Homs at the start of the revolution in 2011. He pointed to the increasing security barriers and unrest, prompting him to move from his home in the Insha'at area near Baba Amr to another home in Al-Bayada. However, he noticed that the security situation deteriorated in all areas surrounding Baba Amr, with shelling starting daily at six in the morning using shells and rockets fired from areas under regime control.


Knowledge of Military Presence

Khaled mentioned being aware of the 11th Division’s presence in Homs, as his uncle served in this division. He explained that people in his area talked about the movements of the 11th Division and its establishment in Homs. He also pointed to the presence of other units such as the armored division stationed in the Al-Waer area.


Testimony on the Events in Baba Amr

Khaled spoke about the situation in Baba Amr, describing how families sought refuge in shelters from morning until evening. He mentioned witnessing people leaving Baba Amr injured and bleeding, prompting him to move to another area near Damascus. He confirmed hearing the shelling clearly and seeing people fleeing from Baba Amr, but they were hesitant to talk about their experiences out of fear.


Khaled explained that there were no prior warnings to civilians before the shelling started. He said the shells were the only warning, forcing people to flee their homes seeking safety.


Khaled confirmed that the shelling led to widespread destruction in Baba Amr, noting that the area was continuously shelled. He pointed out that the neighborhoods considered safer were those with regime loyalists, which were not targeted by shelling.


Khaled concluded his testimony by explaining how these events affected his and his family's lives, forcing him to flee to Damascus seeking safety. He emphasized that his testimony aimed to document the crimes and violations committed by the Syrian regime during that period, expressing hope for justice for the Syrian people.

 

Additional Questions for the Defendant Mohamad Hamo

The hearing concluded with some additional questions for the defendant Mohamad Hamo to clarify some key points about his military service and defection.


When asked if he received any requests to repair weapons in 2012, Hamo answered negatively. He explained that there was a significant difference in how orders and information were distributed during conflict. In traditional wars between two countries, orders are clear and distributed to everyone to be ready for battle. However, in the case of the conflict in Syria, information was given to a very limited number of trusted individuals within the regime. Hamo clarified that the commanders in the Syrian army received limited and directed orders only to those directly concerned, such as field commanders. Lower-ranking officers, especially non-Alawite ones, did not receive the same level of information. Orders were given directly to the relevant commanders while withheld from the rest of the soldiers. He mentioned that Sunni officers were not included in the information loop unless the situation required it urgently.


Hamo spoke about religious discrimination within the Syrian army, noting that 80% of the officers were Alawites, while the rest were from other sects. Hamo himself was the only Sunni officer among 12 other officers in the armament section. He also mentioned the Crisis Cell, which included prominent members like the current and former defense ministers, a relative of the president, and the interior minister. Hamo explained that this cell was formed to make significant decisions, and any disagreement within the cell led to the exclusion or sometimes killing of dissenting members.


When asked about his defection, Hamo confirmed that he was one of the first senior officers to defect from the army. He explained that he did not want to announce his defection widely for fear of endangering his family in Syria. Over time, more officers began to defect after seeing that it was possible and relatively safe.


Hamo explained that the Syrian regime strictly prevents any rebellion or disobedience to orders, and those who dare to do so face severe penalties. He mentioned that if he had shown any hesitation or refusal to follow orders, he would have spent the rest of his life in prison. These risks were extremely high, as the person faced the threat of death or long-term imprisonment, along with potential threats to their family and relatives.


Hamo concluded by stating that senior commanders in the army enjoyed special protection. For example, the Crisis Cell consisted of high-level figures, and any disagreement with the regime could lead to the violent elimination of these commanders.

 

The session ended with the announcement that the closing session for the prosecution, the defense attorney, and the plaintiff’s attorney would be held on May 22, the scheduled end date of the trial.



By: Linda Osman, Lawyer and human rights activist.


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