Syria: Busra Al Assad’s day in Court

On 12 March 2014 the Sixth Chamber of the General Court of the European Union reached a verdict on case T-202/12. The case number does not reveal anything but if one takes the time check who is the applicant and the defendant things does takes another turn: Busra Al Assad and the Council or the European Union. So, time for a little bit of history.

On 9 May 2011 the Council of the European Union adopted Decision 2011/273/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Syria. In the view the serious situation in Syria at that time the Council decided on an arms embargo, ban of export which might be used for internal repression, restriction on admission to the European Union of certain persons responsible for the violent repression against the civilian population in Syria and the freezing of their assets as well as the assets of entities, i.e. private and government companies and institutions that is responsible for said violent repressions against individuals. On 23 March 2012 Busra al-Assad was added to what has been known as the EU sanction list. The motivation for this was the following: “Sister of Bashar al-Assad and wife of Asif Shawkat, Deputy Chief of Staff for Security and Reconnaissance. Given the close personal relationship and intrinsic financial relationship to the Syrian regime figures, she benefits from and is associated with the Syrian regime”.

16 May 2012 Bushra al-Assad appealed the decision adding her to the EU sanction list asking the court to repeal the registration. In additional information to the appeal Bushra al-Assad submitted proof on 30 July 2013 concerning the death of her husband, Asif Shawkat and that she now lived in the United Arab Emirates together with her children who attended school there as proof that she had severed the ties to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. On 6 September 2013 the Council argued in their legal brief that the evidence provided by Bushra al-Assad – the death of her husband – did not change the fact that she was tied to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Furthermore the information she had submitted did not prove that she had left Syria.

In the appeal al-Assad argued that the Council had failed in four separate regards when listing her:

Next, the General Court finds that when the restrictive measures were adopted, the Council did not infringe Ms al-Assad’s rights of defence or her right to effective judicial protection. Following her entry on the list, Ms al-Assad was informed of the grounds for her designation and invited to submit observations. The fact that that notification occurred after her initial listing cannot be regarded in itself as an infringement of the rights of the defence. Prior notification of the grounds would be liable to jeopardise the effectiveness of the fund-freezing measures, which must have a surprise effect and apply immediately. The Council was not, therefore, required to hear Ms al-Assad prior to her initial listing or even before adopting subsequent acts (in which the Council did not admit any new evidence). Lastly, the General Court notes that Ms al-Assad has had the opportunity over several months to challenge the evidence justifying her initial and continued inclusion in the list.

The General Court also finds that the Council was fully entitled to presume that persons whose ties to members of the Syrian regime are established may be regarded as supporting the regime or benefiting from it and, therefore, as being associated with it. That applies in the case of Ms al-Assad, despite the death of her husband and the overly vague nature of the Council’s reference to her relationship with ‘other core Syrian regime figures’. According to the General Court, the mere fact that Ms al-Assad is the sister of the Syrian President is sufficient for the Council to be able to regard her as being linked to the leaders of Syria, particularly since it is well known that power has traditionally been exercised on a family basis in Syria, which the Council was entitled to take into account.

The General Court also notes that the Council produced extracts from internet sites indicating Ms al-Assad’s political role, which confirms that she is associated with the Syrian regime. The General Court rejects Ms al-Assad’s arguments that, as a non-working mother, she does not perform any public or economic function, and that her children are now at school in the United Arab Emirates. The General Court finds that the fact that Ms al-Assad’s children are at school in the United Arab Emirates is not sufficient for her to be regarded as having dissociated herself from the Syrian regime and as having been forced to flee the country. There may be many other reasons for a change in Ms al-Assad’s residence, such as the deterioration of the security situation in Syria.

Lastly, the General Court recognises that the restrictive measures restrict Ms al-Assad’s right to property and affect her private life, since she does not have free enjoyment of her possessions and her freedom of movement is limited. However, given the overriding importance of the protection of civilian populations in Syria and the derogations provided for by the contested decisions (periodic review of the decision by the Council), the General Court holds that the restrictions are not disproportionate.

Thus the General Court dismisses that application and confirms the entry of Ms Bushra al-Assad, sister of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on the list of persons subject to restrictive measures taken against Syria.



About Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson has worked in the field of asylum at the Swedish Migration Agency specializing in the Middle East, Schengen and the Dublin Regulation, as Migration Attaché and head of the migration section at the Swedish Embassy in Damascus 2005 - 2008, as a resettlement consultant at the UNHCR branch office in Damascus 2008 - 2009, Consul at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem 2012 - 2013 and associate RSD/RST officer at UNHCR in Beirut 2013 - 2014. He currently lives in Tbilisi, Georgia.
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