In the spring of 2011, sparked by the Arab Spring, the Syrian people revolted against the regime of its President, Bashar al-Asad. The protests were violently crushed by the government, and in the fall of 2011 the Free Syrian Army was created to provide armed support to the uprising. From 2012 onward, the conflict developed into a long-running sectarian civil war, with the international community providing military support to both parties. Gradually, terrorist organizations like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra became involved in the armed conflict as well. From the start of the conflict, a total number of approximately 280 Dutch nationals have travelled to Syria.
Case against Ahmad al-Y.
Ahmad al-Y. entered the Netherlands as an asylum seeker in October 2019. On the basis of German information he was suspected of having been a member of the terrorist organization Ahrar al-Sham. The case against him evolved into a war crimes case when a YouTube video was found in which Al-Y. is seen while severely humiliating deceased Syrian soldiers. Al-Y. puts his body on the remains of one of the victims and makes a kicking movement towards another. Other armed men in the video are treating the deceased soldiers as trophies and spit on their remains. Al Y., while armed with an assault rifle, can furthermore be seen celebrating their deaths while referring to them as ‘dogs’. In the context of the Syrian armed conflict these acts constitute a war crime. On 22 October 2019 Ahmad al-Y. was arrested by the police. While Al-Y. was in custody, a second video emerged in which he is posing next to a captured adversary and is interrogating him in front of the camera together with other armed men.
On 21 April 2021 the Hague District Court has found Al-Y. guilty of membership of a terrorist organization and of committing a war crime. By putting his foot on a corpse, making a kicking movement to another and by celebrating the deaths of the deceased adversaries while referring to them as ‘dogs’, he has committed outrages upon their dignity. Although the Court found the second video humiliating and degrading, it found that this incident did not reach the threshold for being qualified as an outrage upon the victim’s dignity. Regarding this second video, Al-Y. was therefore acquitted. For the other facts, the Court sentenced him to a total of 6 years in prison.
The Hague District Court, 21 April 2021, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2021:3998
Case against Oussama A.
In the fall of 2014, Oussama A. travelled to Syria to join the terrorist organization of ISIS. Several Facebook accounts show pictures of A. carrying heavy weaponry. His personal details are also found on a ISIS payroll recovered by the United States. According to that payroll, A. has been active as a fighter for ISIS, specifically in its sniper battalion. In the fall of 2016, A. defects from ISIS, to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He stays with the FSA until November 2016, at which point A. flees the FSA camp and crosses the Syrian-Turkish border, where he is arrested.
At a certain point, the Dutch police gets hold of a picture circulating on social media. The picture shows A. as he stands – smiling – next to the crucified body of a man who was executed by ISIS. A. has disseminated the picture himself. Therefore, apart from membership of a terrorist organization, A. is also suspected of having committed a war crime. By posing next to a crucified body, while smiling, and subsequently disseminating that picture, A. has committed an outrage upon the personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, of a protected person. These flagrant and serious violations of human dignity are prohibited by common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (implemented in the Netherlands by article 6(1)(c) of the International Crimes Act).
On 23 July 2019 the The Hague District Court has found A. guilty of membership of a terrorist organization, preparatory acts for committing terrorist crimes, and of the war crime of committing outrages upon personal dignity. The Court thus sentenced him to 7.5 years in prison, of which 2.5 years specifically for the war crime. On 26 January 2021 the The Hague Court of Appeal lowered the overall verdict to 7 years of imprisonment, but upheld the verdict with respect to the war crime (2.5 years in prison).