Report 4: The plaintiffs’ hearings

The previous report provided a summary of the defense counsel and the plaintiff counsel’s opening statements. This report contains a summary of testimonies from Plaintiffs 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8, heard between April 22nd and April 26th.

Plaintiffs 1 and 5 requested closed-door hearings, which was granted by the court. This prevented Civil Rights Defenders from attending their hearings. Their hearings will thus not be summarized here.

An Arabic version of the report can be found here.

Plaintiff 2

Plaintiff 2 testified on Tuesday the 23rd of April. The plaintiff is from Ar-Rastan and has served in the engineering department of the 11th division of the 3rd corps of the Syrian Army. He was assigned to the department in January 2012.

During his hearing, the plaintiff was asked to speak about the Syrian Army’s organisational structure and the connection between the 11th division’s brigades and departments, using a sketch of the structure that the plaintiff had created during his hearing with the Swedish police and which the prosecution presented in court. Plaintiff 2 explained the division’s management structure based on his military experience and education. He also shared insights into brigade-level order issuance procedures and outlined the hierarchical process for a brigade to obtain ammunition and weapons. He explained that the system involved strict adherence to protocols, with no deviation permitted. Rather than directly accessing ammunition from the Damascus warehouse, the brigade had to communicate its needs to the head of the division. The head of the division would then contact the relevant unit head, who would consolidate a proposal endorsed by the head of the division. This proposal would then be elevated to the Armament Board in Damascus for consideration. Once approved, the order was communicated downwards through the chain of command, with the head of the division ultimately authorizing the brigade to collect the ammunition.

Plaintiff 2 was also asked to describe the situation in Ar-Rastan in 2011 and 2012, where he had his residence. He recounted that the demonstrations began in Ar-Rastan in March 2011. The situation escalated as fatalities occurred, leading to larger demonstrations. In May, the military was deployed outside Ar-Rastan, and eventually they entered the city, leading to numerous casualties and arrests. Throughout the summer, clashes continued between armed civilians and the military, with military checkpoints established. By August, the military withdrew from checkpoints, only to return in October, resulting in further casualties. The military remained until January 2012, when demonstrators and rebels succeeded in driving them out, prompting artillery shelling of the city. Plaintiff 2 recounted extensive casualties and arrests, including injuries from shelling and bombings. He described the shelling as indiscriminate, targeting both combatants and civilians, with casualties stemming from various incidents including random shootings and airstrikes. His own residence in Ar-Rastan was damaged in May 2012, rendering it uninhabitable. He explained that the damage to his house was inconsistent with weapons used by the rebels since, according to information he received, the rebels only had access to rifles. Plaintiff 2 claimed that the damage to the residence’s roof was so significant that it must have been caused by a grenade or similar ordinance. However, he did not contradict his superior in the Syrian army, who claimed that it was the rebels in the city who damaged his house. Plaintiff 2 does not have a claim for compensation for the damage to his house.

Plaintiff 3

Plaintiff 3 testified on Tuesday the 23rd of April and provided a detailed account of her experience during the onset of unrest in Syria 2012.

Plaintiff 3 recounted peaceful demonstrations near the clock tower in Homs, located approximately 10 minutes from her home in Jouret Ash-Shayyah. Families and children were present, aiming to end the war. Plaintiff 3 and her children participated briefly but left due to regime warnings. Remaining demonstrators faced gunfire from security forces, witnessed by Plaintiff 3 from her balcony. She noted the absence of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) at the time, thus attributing the shootings to the Syrian regime. The gunfire appeared arbitrary and indiscriminate, with no regard for the targets’ identities.

Following the shootings at the clock tower, Plaintiff 3 described how the daily lives of residents were severely restricted due to snipers placed in the streets, shooting anyone who ventured out. This forced residents to remain indoors for safety. Seeking refuge with her in-laws nearby, she later returned to find her residence in Ar-Rastan severely damaged by shelling, rendering it uninhabitable. The eight-story building, which housed multiple families on each floor, was eventually destroyed. Plaintiff Counsel Degol Embaye presented a video recorded by Plaintiff 3, depicting the severe damage inflicted upon her residence in Ar-Rastan. Plaintiff 3 also emphasized the lack of warning before attacks, highlighting the indiscriminate nature of the regime’s bombardment. She also noted the devastation inflicted on local mosques and schools. Following the Syrian Army’s attacks, Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters were present in the area, identifiable by their attire and limited weaponry.

Plaintiff 4

Plaintiff 4 testified on Wednesday 24 April and provided an account of the situation in Homs towards the end of 2011 and the year of 2012, due to his residence in the city.

Plaintiff 4 described the incident at the clock tower in Homs (described previously by Plaintiff 3 in her testimony), where he had been present for a peaceful demonstration a shorter period during the day. Plaintiff 4 had travelled to Damascus that same evening and thus was not present when the military opened fire. Plaintiff 4 was alerted via phone call by relatives, prompting him to refrain from returning to Homs until the following morning, due to the gunfire and unrest in Homs. Plaintiff 4 further described the deployment of snipers who indiscriminately targeted residents in the Jouret Ash-Shayyah neighbourhood where he was residing. According to Plaintiff 4, these snipers fired upon all civilians passing through the area and thus many residents evacuated the area. Continuing, Plaintiff 4 detailed how the regime initiated shelling of the area, resulting in widespread destruction of residential buildings. Plaintiff 4 recounted that the extensive damage of his residence rendered it uninhabitable and thus seeks compensation for the damages. Upon questions from the prosecution and the Plaintiff counsel, Plaintiff 4 presented the basis of his claim for damages.

Plaintiff 4 further indicated that other areas in Homs, such as Joureh Ash Shayyah, Al-Kossour, and Al-Hamidiyah, all part of old Homs, were subjected to attacks. Plaintiff 4 further described how residents in Al-Waer were forcibly evicted from their apartments, with security forces initiating arrests. Plaintiff 4 asserted that neither the security forces nor the Syrian army made any distinction between civilians, civilian objects and military targets during this period. Weapons observed by Plaintiff 4 to be in use by the military included tanks, vehicles mounted with rocket launchers, aircraft, and artillery shells.

Plaintiff 6

Plaintiff 6, a British photographer, testified on 25 April regarding events just before and during his time in the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr, spanning from 5 February to 22 February 2012. He explained that, as a freelance photographer for the Sunday Times, he utilized his experiences from serving in the British Royal Artillery between 1980 and 1986 to identify artillery weapons and targets accurately. He further explained with his 25 years of journalism experience from across the globe, he understands the impact of such weapons on civilian populations.

In his testimony, Plaintiff 6 spoke of an unprecedented situation in Baba Amr, marked by dire humanitarian conditions and indiscriminate violence by the Syrian army. Plaintiff 6 consistently recounted how the situation and shelling in Baba Amr did not correspond to any other war zone he had previously observed. He stated that indiscriminate fire directed at civilians and residential areas in Baba Amr was common and without any logic from a military strategic perspective. According to Plaintiff 6, the aim was to kill anyone in the area without differentiating between civilians and combatants and without any specific target. The weaponry and violence described by Plaintiff 6 as used by the Syrian army in Baba Amr included various artillery, such as artillery shells, hand grenades, and grenade launchers of different sizes. The exception to this indiscriminate violence was the attack on the media centre where Plaintiff 6 and other journalists were located, including Plaintiffs 7 and 8. Additionally, drones were deployed for surveillance and to record the positions of targets, which in this case were the survivors of the attack on the media centre. They opted to stay despite limited medical care after a risky evacuation offer from the Syrian Red Crescent. Suffering severe physical injuries and psychological trauma, Plaintiff 6 and other survivors were eventually smuggled out but could only seek medical aid upon reaching London due to safety concerns in Syria and Beirut. Plaintiff 6 outlined the foundation of his damages claim, encompassing compensation for both physical injuries and psychological harm, as well as for the loss of income during the period of recuperation.

Plaintiff 7

Plaintiff 7 testified on Thursday 25tApril regarding his presence in Baba Amr during February 2012, acting as an interpreter for a British journalist team, with Plaintiff 6 included.

Plaintiff 7 explained that he originates from Baba Amr, but that upon his initial arrival in Baba Amr with the other journalists, he could not recognize places he had known before. The area and its buildings were so extensively damaged that it appeared to him as a different place. Plaintiff 7 accompanied the international journalist team to the media centre and during the interviews they conducted with civilians in the neighbourhood about their situation. Plaintiff 7 emphasized that the journalists were focused on reporting on the humanitarian situation since their task was to document the experiences of civilians’ daily lives. Therefore, the journalists and his experiences were limited to what civilians themselves had encountered and his team were extremely cautious in their movements within Baba Amr and avoided dangerous areas.

Like Plaintiff 6 and 8, Plaintiff 7 was in the media centre when it was targeted by shelling, Plaintiff 7 explained that he could differentiate between enemy weapons based on explosions and sounds due to his experiences from his military service in the Syrian army. He noted the use of various weapons in Baba Amr against civilians, including internationally prohibited ones. According to Plaintiff 7, all sorts of weapons were used against the civilian population in Baba Amr, except for heavy weapons such as ballistic weapons. Plaintiff 7 emphasized the indiscriminate nature of the violence, with the Syrian army making no distinction in their targets, resulting in civilian harm.

Plaintiff 8

Plaintiff 8 testified on Friday 26tApril regarding her experience in Baba Amr in February 2012. Plaintiff 8 is a French journalist that like Plaintiff 6 and 7 was in the building of the media centre in Baba Amr when it was subjected to shelling.

Plaintiff 8 explained that, despite extensive experience as a journalist working in armed conflicts, she had never seen a conflict as devastating for civilians as what she witnessed in Syria in February 2012. Plaintiff 8 stated that there is typically a frontline separating the conflict zone from civilian areas in armed conflicts, allowing journalists to report from behind the frontlines on the humanitarian situation among civilians. However, in Baba Amr, there was no distinct frontline. Instead, civilians themselves were on the frontline. Plaintiff 8 further highlighted the restricted access of international aid organisations and diplomats to Baba Amr.

Plaintiff 8 recounted how the media centre in Baba Amr was targeted and shelled by the Syrian army. She witnessed her colleagues’ dead bodies being removed from the building and taken to the clinic. Sustaining severe leg injuries, Plaintiff 8 received limited medical care due to the local clinic’s lack of resources. After receiving initial treatment, Plaintiff 8, along with Plaintiffs 6 and 7 and other survivors, were relocated to a building to seek shelter from the shelling.

Eventually, Plaintiff 8 and other survivors, including Plaintiff 6 and 7, were smuggled across the border to Lebanon after hiding for some time. Plaintiff 8 described how her shrapnel injuries caused ongoing pain and disabilities. Plaintiff 8 went on to outline the foundation of her damages claim, which encompasses compensation for both physical injuries and psychological harm, as well as compensation for loss of income during her recuperation.

Expert witness Eman Shahoud

Expert Witness Eman Shahoud was heard in court on Friday 26 April due to her extensive expertise in Syrian law, having worked as a lawyer and judge in Syria. She is currently selected to represent civil society in the UN constitutional committee, which keeps her up to date with developments in Syrian law. She was heard regarding her and academic researcher Mariana Fakih’s conclusions in the expert opinion they wrote for the case.  Shahoud explained how they reached their conclusion and how they and calculated the sum of the compensation by applying Syrian law. Shahoud clarified, inter aila, that Syrian civil law on damages applies to all crimes without any restrictions, according to section 138 in the Syrian Penal Code. The initial conditions for the claim for damages are that a person has committed a criminal act and that there should be a connection between the criminal act and the damages. Furthermore, she explained how a person can be liable to compensate both material and immaterial damage, according to sections 222-223 the Syrian Civil Code.


The next report will provide a summary of the defendant’s initial hearing which began on Monday 29 April.