First trial worldwide on torture in Syria to open in Germany

First trial worldwide on torture in Syria to open in Germany
The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, announced the first criminal trial worldwide on state torture in Syria will begin on 23 April, a German court said on Tuesday (March 10).

In using the principle of universal jurisdiction, the German judiciary is sending an important signal to survivors and those affected by Bashar al-Assad’s system of torture and oppression. 

The main defendant is Anwar R., a former official at the General Intelligence Directorate. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) supports 16 Syrians in the proceedings, nine of whom aim to be joint plaintiffs, the others, potential witnesses.

"In Syria, intelligence officers enjoy complete impunity,” said a Syrian who was imprisoned and tortured in the al-Khatib branch detention center in Damascus. “It is inconceivable that they could be arrested, let alone held accountable. In Germany, I now see that it is possible. I witnessed prisoners being tortured to death and hope that Anwar R. will be convicted.”

As the head of the Al-Khatib prison’s investigations, Anwar R. is charged with being an accomplice responsible for torturing at least 4000 people, murdering 58 people, rape and aggravated sexual assault.

“The trial in Koblenz is an important step, if only a beginning on the long road to justice,” said Patrick Kroker, head of ECCHR’s Syria project. “Further arrest warrants like the one issued by the German Federal Court of Justice for Jamil Hassan are needed. Whether in Germany, Austria, Sweden or Norway, our goal is to bring to justice high-ranking members of Assad’s security apparatus who are responsible for torture, sexual violence, executions and the disappearance of tens of thousands of people in Syria.”

The trial in Koblenz is the result of a series of criminal complaints about torture in Syria that ECCHR and more than 50 Syrians, including torture survivors and their relatives, activists and lawyers, filed in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Norway starting in 2016.

The complaints in Sweden and Austria have already led to investigations. But the biggest step so far came from Germany – in June 2018, the Federal Court of Justice issued an international arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, head of the Assad regime’s Air Force Intelligence Service until July 2019. ECCHR and its Syrian partner organizations’ criminal complaint with the German Federal Public Prosecutor played a crucial role.

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