EXCLUSIVE: The Syrian survivors who brought the 'Butcher of Yarmouk' to justice speak

EXCLUSIVE: The Syrian survivors who brought the 'Butcher of Yarmouk' to justice speak
With Syria’s war lasting over a decade, Mouaffaq Dawa is one of only a very few war criminals to be brought to justice for his crimes.
3 min read
21 March, 2023
Yarmouk refugee camp, now under regime control, suffered widespread destruction during the Syrian war [Getty]

In an exclusive video documentary for al-Araby al-Jadeed, activists, Palestinian lawyers, and residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus have detailed how the 'butcher of Yarmouk' was brought to justice using Germany's law of universal jurisdiction. 

Mouaffaq Dawa, the "Butcher of Yarmouk" was sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany last month, in a landmark case which has revived hopes of justice for thousands of Syrians. 

Produced by al-Majed Hussam for The New Arab's sister site al-Araby al-Jadeeed, the new documentary recounts eyewitness testimony to build a picture of a rare case of justice for crimes committed in the Syrian civil war. 

Dawa was convicted of committing war crimes in Yarmouk Camp in 2014, including an arbitrary revenge attack on defenceless Palestinian civilans in the camp. 

In a shocking account, Palestinian lawyer Mohammed Najmeh recounted how the regime-allied commander was bought to justice for his unprovoked massacre. 

"The massacre took place on 23 March 2014 on Yarmouk street, in a place called al-Rijeh square," said Najmeh. 

As Palestinian and Syrian civilians were queuing to receive food in March that year, Dawa fired an anti-tank grenade into the crowd, killing seven and leaving three others seriously injured.

"The victims were standing behind the sandbag wall, in the line of fire of regime forces. Mouaffaq Dawa was standing next to the street. He asked for a loaded RPG from someone in his group, and fired it straight into the crowd that was waiting to receive aid." 

According to eyewitnesses, Dawa was heard to shout "this is revenge for my nephew, Emad Duwa," and swore "I will not leave any of you alive" as he unleashed the explosives. 

A young boy, Musa Nidal al-Essoud was among those who lost their lives in the horrific attack, said Najmeh. 

"At that time, the camp was under a tight blockade - people couldn't leave," the head teacher of Yarmouk's Damascene school Abu Salma Khalil told al-Araby al-Jadeed

"They were surrounded on all sides by hunger, killing, barrel bombs." 

Dawa was serving as a commander at a militia checkpoint near the camp, and was known to witnesses as a vindictive and violent fighter. The court said he was a member of the Free Palestine Movement, allied with the Syrian regime. 

In 2019, Dawa arrived in Germany as a refugee before he was arrested and brought to trial.  

A number of activists, along with relatives of the massacre’s victims, had also fled to Germany - and have told how they helped bring ‘the butcher of Yarmouk’ to justice. 

This is not the end of the story, as families from Yarmouk have accused Dawa of other crimes. 

With Syria’s war lasting over a decade, Dawa is likely one of hundreds if not thousands of war criminals waiting to be brought to justice.