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The Hague District Court in the Netherlands Sentences a Former Member of Liwa al-Quds to 12 Years in Prison for Committing War Crimes in Syria

By: Linda Osman, Lawyer and human rights activist.

On January 22, 2024, The Hague, Netherlands witnessed a historic ruling as it was the first time a Dutch court convicted a collaborator with the Assad regime in a case marked by its legal and humanitarian significance. The court sentenced Mustafa A., aged 35, to twelve years in prison for his involvement in crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Syria from 2011 to 2017. The case was distinguished by addressing the criminal activities of the Liwa al-Quds militia, one of the most prominent militias aligned with the Syrian regime which contributed to the suppression of demonstrations and the arrest of civilians as part of the ongoing attacks and repression suffered by the civilian population in Syria.

Mustafa A. held a leadership position within the Liwa al-Quds militia until the end of 2017. He was known for directing combat units and was seen in many photos alongside the militia's top leaders. He was one of five leaders of Liwa al-Quds who received high-level military honors from Russia in 2015. The court found him guilty for his involvement in the violent arrest of civilians and their handover to the Syrian Air Force Intelligence, where they were subjected to torture.

The court highlighted that the armed conflict in Syria was not merely an internal struggle, but it bore international dimensions, epitomized in the role of the Liwa al-Quds militia, which was one of the most significant militias aligned with the Syrian regime. The militia, as reported by the court, participated in the suppression of demonstrations and the arrest of opponents and civilians, thereby contributing to the ongoing violence and repression in Syria against the civilian population. These actions, described by the court as widespread and systematic, were classified as crimes against humanity. Consequently, the court designated the "Liwa al-Quds" militia as a criminal organization in its ruling.

The court charged Mustafa A. with illegal arrest and complicity in torture for his role in the arrest and torture of a civilian in the al-Nairab refugee camp near Aleppo in 2013. The judges included harrowing details of the torture the victim endured in their ruling, noting that the victim was brutally detained and tortured by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate.

The ruling was based on the principles of universal jurisdiction, meaning that the Dutch court saw in itself the right to prosecute crimes committed outside its national borders, based on their international nature. This stance reflects the Netherlands' commitment to combating impunity for international crimes and upholding justice and human rights. The ruling also focused on the principle of legality in criminal law as stated in Article 1 of the Dutch Criminal Code, which includes the requirement to foresee any behavior considered punishable by law. This principle was clearly applied in the case, as the court confirmed that the defendant could reasonably have expected, at the time of committing the crimes, that his actions were considered crimes punishable by law based on his participation in organizing Liwa al-Quds and his knowledge of the crimes planned and committed by this organization, constituting criminal responsibility in itself.

It is important to note that the ruling emphasized the importance of applying international legal provisions, declaring that Mustafa A.'s crimes must be treated as crimes against humanity and not ordinary crimes. This highlights the court's commitment to applying international law and its emphasis on the importance of holding those responsible for international crimes accountable.

This ruling comes at a time when international interest in the issue of justice and accountability in Syria is increasing. Syria has been the stage for one of the bloodiest and most complex conflicts of the modern era, witnessing the commission of numerous mass crimes. In this context, the ruling against Mustafa A. represents an important step towards achieving justice for the victims and affirming the importance of legal accountability. The ruling underscores the international stance that rejects impunity for perpetrators of international crimes and affirms that justice can be achieved even when crimes have been committed outside national borders.

Furthermore, the case indicates that universal jurisdiction can be an effective tool in achieving justice for victims and ensuring that there are no safe havens for criminals. The ruling in the case of Mustafa A. is a testament to the importance of international cooperation and efforts made to combat impunity and achieve justice for victims of international crimes. The ruling indicates that crimes against humanity and war crimes are offenses that touch the global conscience and must be strictly punished.

In conclusion, the historic ruling in the Netherlands against a member of the Liwa al-Quds militia represents an important step in the context of achieving justice for the Syrian people. This ruling reaffirms the importance of the judicial system in combating impunity and ensuring that there are no safe havens for criminals, regardless of their nationality or the place where they committed their crimes.

By: Linda Osman, Lawyer and human rights activist.



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