Conviction in Syrian regime war crime —at last

For the first time, after six years of war and escalating atrocities, a member of the Syrian regime’s military has been convicted of a war crime. The perpetrator, identified as Mohammad Abdullah, was a low-level soldier who is now in Sweden as a refugee. He was convicted by a Swedish court Oct. 2 of violating human dignity by posing with his boot on a corpse and sentenced to eight months in prison. Abdullah, 32, arrived three years ago in Sweden, where other Syrian refugees recognized him through his Facebook posts and connected him to a photograph he had posted earlier, in which he stands with his boot on the corpse of a man in civilian clothing surrounded by other corpses. As the New York Times notes in its coverage, this is the first conviction of an Assad regime solider in any country, six years after the Syrian revolution was sparked by an incident in which school-children were tortured after painting anti-regime slogans on a wall.

As the Times also notes, there have been several convictions of Syrian rebel and ISIS fighters in European courts. The most recent was also in Sweden in February, when a former Syrian rebel fighter was sentenced to life in prison for his participation in a mass execution of seven men in 2012. The defendant, who had permanent residence in Sweden, argued that the executions were carried out in accordance with death sentences ordered by a rebel court. The Swedish court denied the rebel court had any legitimacy. (Jurist, Feb. 16)

The press release on the sentencing did not name the defendant, but identified him as a member of the Suleiman Company (Firqat Suleiman el-Muqatila). The Tracking Terrorism website identifies Firqat Suleiman el-Muqatila as an Islamist faction active mostly in Idlib, and not affiliated with the Free Syrian Army.

Another former Syrian rebel—this one an ex-FSA fighter accused of abusing a captured regime solider—was convicted in Sweden in 2015.

This gross imbalance in convictions persists despite the fact that Assad has killed far more Syrians than ISIS or any other “terrorist” outfit in the country. Hopefully, convictions of more (and more senior) regime soldiers and leaders will follow; other European countries have been collecting evidence of war crimes and genocide in Syria.