A criminal complaint has been filed in Moscow on behalf of a Syrian citizen who was tortured, killed, and had his corpse mutilated by six individuals in 2017 in the Homs Governorate. The complaint demands the initiation of criminal proceedings against alleged members of the so-called Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner. It was facilitated by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the Memorial Human Rights Center.
Lawyers retained by SCM, FIDH, and Memorial, Ilya Novikov and Petr Zaikin, are representing the brother of the victim, Mohamad A.
This litigation is a first-ever attempt by the family of a Syrian victim to hold Russian suspects accountable for serious crimes committed in Syria. The complaint demands the initiation of criminal proceedings on the basis of murder committed with extreme cruelty, with a view to establishing the alleged perpetrators’ responsibility for this and other crimes, including war crimes.
Russian Legal Obligations
Novikov, one of the lawyers for the plaintiff, explained: “Russian law contains an obligation for the State to investigate crimes committed by Russian citizens abroad. The Investigative Committee has not, to date, initiated any investigation of the crime in question, even though all of the necessary information was officially communicated to the Russian authorities over a year ago.”
“A complaint submitted by Novaya Gazeta one year ago was ignored,” said Alexander Cherkasov, chairman of Memorial Human Rights Center. “This has forced us, human rights defenders, to turn to Russian investigative authorities. Indeed, this is a repeat of what happened 20 years ago, when enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions committed during the armed conflict in the Northern Caucasus were likewise not investigated. Today, we see another link in this chain of impunity.”
Mazen Darwish, director general and founder of the SCM, stated: “The Russian government must assume its legal and moral responsibilities for the violations committed by its army, including the private entities involved in external military operations under its command, such as the Wagner Group. We know that the networks of political and economic relations of such groups are complex. Nevertheless, it is simply not permissible to regard the blood of Syrians as cheap and think of lost civilian lives as mere collateral damage.”
“This complaint is not only a significant step forward towards ensuring a modicum of justice for the family of the victim of this barbaric crime,” said Ilya Nuzov, head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “It also paves the way to holding Russia responsible for this and other crimes committed by its de facto armed forces extraterritorially. A State cannot avoid international responsibility by outsourcing violence to shadowy armed groups like Wagner.”