Proceedings against doctor Alaa M: Coming to terms with crimes in Syria continues

Syria – Crimes against humanity – Military hospitals

In June 2020, the German police arrested Alaa M, who has since been held in detention awaiting trial. The reason: strong suspicion of complicity in crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime since 2011. Approximately one year after his arrest, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced that it had filed charges against M, a former Syrian doctor who allegedly tortured, killed and sexually abused people in military hospitals.

In January 2022, the trial against Alaa M began in the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court, with an ECCHR partner lawyer representing a joint plaintiff. Just one week earlier, former Syrian officer Anwar R had been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in the world’s first trial on state torture in Syria, in which ECCHR supported torture survivors.


Alaa M is alleged to have participated in sexual violence and the torture and killing of Syrian civilians while working as a doctor in the military hospital No. 608 in Homs, in the notorious military hospital Mezzeh No. 601 in Damascus – where the so-called Caesar photos were taken – and in the prison of Branch 261 of the Military Intelligence Services in Homs.

This case clearly demonstrates that the systematic violence of the Syrian regime against the civilian population does not only take place within detention facilities. Evidence of the role of military hospitals in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s apparatus of injustice was initially provided by the Caesar photos: the images, taken by a Syrian military photographer who defected and then brought them out of the country, reveal thousands of corpses, often with obvious signs of torture. A large portion of the photographs were proven to have been taken in military hospitals within and in the vicinity of Damascus, and they already played a significant role in the so-called al-Khatib trial.

The trial of Alaa M may also prove to be an important step in addressing crimes of sexual violence. The federal prosecution, for example, is also accusing Alaa M of injuring the genitalia of a boy and an adult man so severely that, according to the indictment, this constitutes a deliberate attempt to deprive them of the ability to reproduce.


Germany has assumed a pioneering role in addressing such crimes at least since the start of the al-Khatib proceedings in the Koblenz Higher Regional Court. In addition, German law enforcement authorities issued an arrest warrant for ex-Air Force Intelligence chief Jamil Hassan. The German authorities have succeeded in handling these highly complex cases in part through so-called structural investigation procedures, to which many Syrian survivors, activists, lawyers and organizations such as ECCHR have also contributed. In addition, Germany applies the principle of universal jurisdiction, according to which the most serious crimes against humanity can be prosecuted even when they have no direct connection to Germany.

In total, ECCHR has filed seven criminal complaints concerning the crimes of the Assad regime with investigative authorities in Germany, Sweden, Norway and Austria.

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German Federal Public Prosecutor

The Office of the German Federal Public Prosecutor (Generalbundesanwaltschaft, GBA) is Germany’s highest prosecutory authority. The GBA is responsible for prosecutions in serious cases relating to crimes against international law and crimes concerning state security.

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The first trial worldwide on state torture in Syria started in Germany in April 2020 at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz. The main defendant was Anwar R, a former official of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian General Intelligence Directorate. In January 2022, the trial ended with the convition of Anwar R to a life-long sentence for crimes against humanity. Already in February 2021, the court sentenced his colleague, Eyad A, to four years and six months in prison for aiding and abetting 30 cases of crimes against humanity.

In June 2018, it moreover became known that the Germany Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) had issued an arrest warrant against Jamil Hassan, until July 2019 head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service. This warrant, which can be enforced internationally, and the al-Khatib trial in Koblenz are milestones towards justice and accountability for all those affected by Assad’s torture system.

The al-Khatib trial and the arrest warrant are, among others, the result of a series of criminal complaints regarding torture in Syria, which ECCHR and more than 50 Syrian torture survivors, relatives, activists, and lawyers have filed since 2016 in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Norway.

In Syria, torture, executions and disappearances of civilians, genocides and sexualized violence are only some of the crimes committed by almost all conflict parties. There is little prospect of accountability for these crimes on an international level. The International Criminal Court is not an option as Syria is not a signatory to its statute and Russia is blocking a referral by the UN Security Council. This leaves the path through national courts: In some third party states like Germany, the principle of universal jurisdiction allows for the crimes to be addressed legally and to hold high- as well as lower ranking perpetrators accountable.

ECCHR has been working on crimes committed by all parties of the conflict since 2012 and is cooperating with a network of Syrian and international organizations, lawyers and activists.


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