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Human rights lawyers call for arrest of Assad’s cousin following reports he fled to UAE

Rami Makhlouf has publicly fallen out with Bashar al-Assad [Twitter]

Date of publication: 5 May, 2020

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Following a public dispute between Bashar Al-Assad and his businessman cousin Rami Makhlouf, the Guernica 37 human rights lawyers group have called for the arrest of Makhlouf for war crimes

A group of human rights lawyers has called for the arrest of Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad, for crimes against civilians after reports emerged that he is present in the UAE.

The Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, which was founded by British solicitor Toby Cadman, said in a statement on Monday that Makhlouf had "financially supported the Syrian regime and is alleged to be complicit in the crimes of the Syrian State Intelligence and Security Forces".

He added that he had "bankrolled the brutal destruction of the pro-democracy revolution since 2011".

The Syrian conflict began in 2011, when the Assad regime used military force, arrests and torture to suppress pro-democracy protests. Since then more than 500,000 people have been killed, over a million wounded and over 12 million have been displaced, either internally or externally, mostly as a result of attacks on civilian areas by the regime and its allies.

Makhlouf was until recently a close confidant and advisor of Assad, owning Syria’s most prominent mobile communications provider, SyriaTel, as well as large sectors of the war-torn country’s banking, tourism, oil, and aviation sectors. His personal fortune was estimated at $5 billion and he was seen as a symbol of the regime's corruption and nepotism.

However, the tycoon has fallen from grace recently. In August he was placed under house arrest by the Assad regime after reportedly refusing to contribute to servicing the regime's war debts. Last week, he posted two videos on Facebook saying he had been mistreated by elements in the regime.

Read more: Rami Makhlouf's fall from grace confirmed following video plea to Assad

The Guernica 37 group used Makhlouf’s own words in the video as evidence against him. "Would someone have expected that the security apparatus would target the companies of Rami Makhlouf, who was their biggest supporter, their major servant, and their largest sponsor during the war?" it quoted him as saying.

This, the human rights group said, was "a clear admission of support to the Regime’s State Intelligence and Security Sector, a sector which is responsible for a catalogue of war crimes, crimes against humanity, including systematic torture and mass execution of civilians".

It addied that Makhlouf could be held responsible for the financing of strikes against schools and hospitals as well as chemical attacks.

Guernica 37 said that it would "be considering the most appropriate legal action" against Makhlouf calling on UAE authorities to arrest him.

Read more: Is Assad now a liability? The mysterious Russian media campaign against Syria's dictator

"We call on the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with whom Makhlouf has long standing links, to honour its international treaty obligations and not to allow its territory to be used a safe haven for those persons accused of supporting the most egregious crimes known to man."

The UAE re-established diplomatic relations with the Assad regime last year and its strongman, Mohammed bin Zayed, recently held a telephone conference with Bashar al-Assad to discuss the coronavirus pandemic. Assad's sister, Bushra, moved to the UAE in 2012 and the country has been a haven for regime figures and their financial activities.

The Syrian pound, which has lost most of its value during the country's conflict, declined sharply after Makhlouf made his two videos, with some observers predicting conflict between the tycoon's supporters and Assad’s.

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