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Good morning, this is Michelle, bringing you our first daily brief of the season. Before kicking off what will be a chockablock in September, we look back at the major developments in international justice of the month.

We learned this month that, since last year, Swiss authorities have on their wanted list no other than the uncle of Syrian ruler Bachar Al-Assad – otherwise known as the “butcher of Hama”. The warrant was kept under wraps to maximise its chances of success, but it may have come a little too late, writes Civitas Maxima director Alain Werner.

This week, Cuban rights groups were in Geneva to warn of rising violations in the country. But advocating at the Human Rights Council has not been easy.

photo journaliste

Michelle Langrand


On our radar

Photo article

Police detain an anti-government demonstrator during a protest in Havana, Cuba, 11 July 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in several cities in Cuba to protest against ongoing food shortages and high prices of foodstuffs, amid the new coronavirus crisis. (Keystone/AP /Ramón Espinosa)

Cuban rights defenders pin hopes on Human Rights Council to revive awareness. On Wednesday, leaders of Cuban human rights groups were in Geneva for a pre-session ahead of the country’s Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council, to begin in November. With activists banned from leaving the country, most rights defenders who presented a picture of mounting violations in the country to UN diplomats had been forced into exile. We speak rights defenders here and in the island nation.

Geneva Solutions

War crimes round-up

Photo article

Rifaat Assad, the exiled uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his office in Marbella, southern Spain, 27 May 2005. (Keystone/AP Photo/Paul White, File)

Switzerland weighs in on elusive quest for justice over Syria Hama massacre. Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court (FCC) revealed this month that an international arrest warrant was launched last year against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s uncle in connection with war crimes committed in the city of Hama in 1982.

The wanted notice for Riffat al-Assad, issued in July 2022 by the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) on the FCC’s orders, has only just been made public after being kept confidential to increase its chances of success.

Between 10,000 and 40,000 people are estimated to have died during a massive crackdown on the west-central city to quash an uprising that challenged the rule of then-President Hafez al-Assad. Witnesses and victims have recounted how Rifaat al-Assad – the commander of government special forces at the time – was present during the brutal crackdown and ordered his troops to “clean the town of the thugs”.

Al-Assad, dubbed “the butcher of Hama”, was staying in a five-star hotel in Geneva when Geneva-based NGO Trial International filed a complaint against him in 2013. His presence in Switzerland, however brief, was enough to trigger the exercise of universal jurisdiction.

However, it was only after a slow and lengthy investigation by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General that the federal prosecutor ordered the FOJ to issue the warrant in November 2021. The following month, the FOJ refused to do so, arguing that it couldn’t issue the warrant since Al-Assad was no longer on Swiss territory. The case rose to the FCC, which ordered the FOJ to issue the warrant the following year regardless.

In the course of this procedural back and forth, Rifaat al-Assad had been investigated for, charged, and convicted of financial offences in France, where he had been residing. He was also under investigation in Spain for other financial charges.

By the time the Swiss authorities managed to act definitively on the case and issue the international warrant, Rifaat al-Assad had already left France, avoiding a four-year prison sentence, and returned to Syria.

Whether he will ever stand trial in Switzerland for his alleged crimes remains to be seen. This whole process also begs the question of why France and Switzerland could not have collaborated to prevent al-Assad from fleeing France right under the nose of the authorities. Nevertheless, for his victims, this warrant, thanks to the tenacity of a Geneva NGO, remains a significant step forward in obtaining accountability for these crimes.

- Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima

🌍 Justice developments elsewhere. 🇨🇭Former Algerian defence minister will stand trial in Switzerland, becoming the highest-ranking military official to ever be tried for war crimes under universal jurisdiction. 🇸🇷 In Suriname, the trial against former President Dési Bouterse for mass murders is drawing to a close. 🇧🇦A recent law for civilian victims of war was passed by the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina while 🇺🇸 new US legislation will allow it to cooperate with the International Criminal Court to investigate atrocities committed during the war in Ukraine – without having to sign up to it.

🇳🇴 Murder claims broadcasted on TikTok are being probed by Norwegian police. 🇬🇧The UK finally acknowledged the Yazidi genocide, and 🇺🇳 UN appeals judges sided with a Rwandan genocide suspect with Alzheimer's declared unfit to stand trial.

Read the full story on our website 🌐

Here’s what else is happening

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