The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression Welcomes the Arrest of an Alleged Member of the Syrian National Defense Militia in the Netherlands

Paris, December 8, 2023 – Today, a Syrian individual suspected of committing international crimes – crimes against humanity, including torture and sexual violence in Syria has been arrested by the Dutch authorities. The 55-year-old suspect resides in the Dutch city of Druten, where he was granted a temporary asylum permit. The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) welcomes this arrest as this is the first time an arrest has been carried out in the Netherlands on the charge of committing serious crimes related to sexual violence in Syria. 

In March 2023, SCM responded to a request from the Dutch War Crimes Unit regarding violations committed by members of the National Defense militia in the Syrian city of Salamiyah in 2013. Accordingly, a file containing evidence on these violations, such as testimonies, investigative research, and a map of the National Defense militia headquarters and checkpoints in Salamiyah, was prepared and submitted.

Lawyer Mazen Darwish, the General Director of SCM, emphasized, “The cooperation between war crimes units and Syrian human rights organizations under the umbrella of universal jurisdiction serves as an effective model in combating impunity and safeguarding the rights of victims. This partnership guarantees the safety and well-being of host communities and should also be strategically reinforced.”

According to the investigations conducted by the International Crimes Team at the National Criminal Investigation Department in the Netherlands, the individual is suspected of having been involved in investigation and interrogation operations in Salamiyah between 2013 and 2018 as a part of the National Defense militia, which is a paramilitary group loyal to the Syrian government. He is also suspected of committing acts of torture and sexual violence against civilians.

“The arrest of an alleged member of the National Defense militia on the suspicion of committing serious violations against civilians marks a significant stride towards holding accountable those responsible for crimes in the Syrian conflict. It also reaffirms the commitment to the principle of no impunity,” said lawyer Tarek Hokan, director of the Strategic Litigation Project at SCM. “This step could not have been possible without the courage of witnesses and victims who actively contributed to the investigative process and information collection, ultimately leading to the suspect’s arrest upon his arrival in the Netherlands.”

The National Defense militias were formed during the ongoing Syrian conflict, aligning themselves with pro-government and Syrian army forces. With various headquarters established in Salamiyah and nearby villages, they seized and transformed public facilities into detention and interrogation centers where grave violations, such as torture and rape, were perpetrated.

It should also be noted that the suspect arrived in the Netherlands in July 2021, obtained a temporary asylum permit, and has been residing in the city of Druten since 2022. The suspect will be presented to the judiciary on Monday, December 11, 2023.