It was the case of two Syrians, one prosecuted for complicity in crimes against humanity, the other for torture and war crimes, that led to this decision. The Court of Cassation ruled in their favor, considering on Friday that the jurisdiction of the French justice was universal to prosecute foreign perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed outside France on foreign nationals.

"The Court recognizes the French justice this 'universal jurisdiction' in two cases concerning Syria," said in a statement the highest judicial court which issued two judgments specifying the conditions under which the French justice was competent.

The principle of "dual criminality"

The Court had heard appeals from two Syrians: one filed by Abdulhamid Chaban, a former soldier arrested in France and indicted for complicity in crimes against humanity in February 2019, and the other by Majdi Nema, former spokesperson for the Syrian rebel group Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), prosecuted for torture and war crimes.

In November 2021, the Court, already seized of the Chaban case, had ruled that the French justice was incompetent in this case, invoking the principle of "double criminality" provided for in the law of 9 August 2010: crimes against humanity and war crimes must be recognized in the country of origin of a suspect whom the France intends to prosecute. Syria does not recognize these crimes and has not ratified the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court.

Crimes and misdemeanours "by equivalence"

This judgment caused an earthquake in the judiciary and human rights organizations. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), a civil party, had filed an objection on procedural grounds, allowing the case to be returned to the Court of Cassation. In the case of Majdi Nema, former spokesman for the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), arrested in January 2020 in Marseille where he was studying, the Paris Court of Appeal upheld his indictment in April 2022, considering that Syrian law provided "by equivalence" for several crimes and war offenses defined in the French Penal Code.

The Court of Cassation on Friday followed this position, thus reversing the one previously adopted in the Chaban case. "For there to be double criminality, it is not necessary that the facts falling within France of the offences of crimes against humanity or war crimes be characterized identically by the laws of the foreign country," she ruled Friday. It is sufficient "that foreign law punishes such acts as an ordinary offence such as murder, rape or torture". Both appeals were dismissed, allowing both judicial inquiries to continue.

  • Justice
  • War crimes
  • Crime against humanity
  • Court of Cassation