France’s highest court has ruled that the country can try foreign suspects under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The decision allows the investigation of two Syrians arrested in France, accused of war crimes.
The ruling was welcomed by human rights groups, who said it would also have a significant impact on dozens of other cases involving a range of conflicts around the world.
“The Court recognizes the principle of universal jurisdiction for French justice in two cases concerning Syria,” the Court of Cassation said in a statement.
The ruling allows the investigation into the cases against former Syrian soldier Abdulhamid Chaban and Majdi Nemo, a former spokesman for the Islamist group Jaish al-Islam, to continue.
Chaban was charged with complicity in crimes against humanity and Nemo with torture and war crimes
Chaban was arrested in France in 2019 and Nemo was detained during a study trip to the southern city of Marseille.
Both deny the allegations.
They both tried to argue that they should not have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity because these crimes do not exist in their country’s laws.
Syria has never ratified the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, which defines both crimes.
The court ruled, however, that it is not necessary for “crimes against humanity or war crimes to be identically described by the laws of a foreign country” for an investigation to proceed.
Nine human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters with Borders, welcomed the ruling in a joint statement.
“These decisions allow victims – who are not seeking justice either in their own countries or at the International Criminal Court – to raise cases in France to play an important role in the fight against impunity,” said Jeanne Sulzer of Amnesty International. France.