Dutch police arrest a Syrian accused of sexual violence and other crimes in Syria's civil war

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Syrian refugee was arrested Friday in the Netherlands on suspicion of crimes against humanity including sexual violence while he was allegedly head of an interrogation team in a militia aligned to the government of President Bashar Assad.

The arrest of the 55-year-old man marks the first time Dutch authorities have charged a suspect with sexual violence as a crime against humanity, the National Public Prosecution Service said in a statement.

He is the latest suspect charged in the Netherlands with crimes committed during Syria's grinding civil war. Under universal jurisdiction, the Netherlands can prosecute certain crimes even if they were committed abroad.

The Netherlands and Canada have also taken Syria to the United Nations' top court, accusing Assad's administration of a years-long campaign of “institutionalized” torture against its own people.

Following an investigation by the Dutch National Police's International Crimes Team, prosecutors alleged that the man, whose identity was not released, was head of the interrogation department of the National Defense Force in the western Syrian city of Salamiyah in 2013-14. The NDF is a paramilitary group fighting on the side of the Syrian government in the country's civil war.

“He is charged with complicity in torture in an official capacity with specific intent, complicity in torture as a crime against humanity and complicity in various forms of sexual violence as a crime against humanity,” prosecutors said.

The suspect arrived in the Netherlands in 2021 and was granted asylum. He was tracked down by police following a tip that a person with a similar name was chief interrogator for the NDF in Salamiyah, prosecutors said.

Further details were not released. The suspect is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.

The Netherlands is not the only country in Europe prosecuting crimes in Syria.

A German court convicted a former member of Assad’s secret police for facilitating the torture of prisoners. He was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. Another German court convicted a Syrian man in July of torturing captives while he was a member of the Islamic State group in Syria and sentenced to 11 years.

And in April, France issued arrest warrants for three high-ranking Syrian intelligence officers accused of complicity in crimes against humanity in the deaths of a father and son who disappeared a decade ago. In an acknowledgement that there was little likelihood the Syrian men would be extradited to France, prosecutors said a trial in the case could proceed without them in Paris.

 

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