Saydnaya, al-Mezzeh and the Aleppo Air Force Intelligence Branch: for the vast majority of people in Syria, these prison names are synonymous with systematic degradation, unimaginable torture and mass executions. Senior officials of President Bashar al-Assad's government are responsible for the international crimes committed at these prisons.
On 6 November 2017, ECCHR together with four Syrians and the lawyers Anwar al-Bunni and Mazen Darwish filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Public Prosecutor (Generalbundesanwalt, GBA) in Karlsruhe concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria. The criminal acts in question – including intentional killing, persecution, torture and prosecution without due process – were committed against detainees at the Saydnaya military prison. The crimes took place between December 2011 and June 2014 in the prison itself as well as at the Tishreen military hospital and the military field court. This criminal complaint is directed against seven high-ranking Syrian military officials including Defense Minister Lieutenant General Fahd Jassem al-Freij and Military Prosecutor Brigadier General Mohammed Hassan Kenjo as well as the head of the military police and the Saydnaya military prison. The complaint was supported by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.
The criminal complaint supplement previous criminal complaints and evidence submitted by Syrian torture survivors in March 2017 and by the Caesar Files Group in September 2017. ECCHR, Anwar al-Bunni (Syrian Center for Legal Research and Studies, SCLSR) and Mazen Darwish (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, SCM) believe that Germany can play an important role in efforts to end impunity in Syria. The German legal system recognizes the principle of universal jurisdiction and the Federal Public Prosecutor in Karlsruhe is already investigating torture committed under Assad since 2011.
Claimants profiles: "The sense of fear and helplessness was overwhelming. We wanted to die."
Anwar al-Bunni is a well-known Syrian human rights lawyer. He is one the founders of the Human Rights Association Syria (HRAS) and the Syrian Center for Legal Research and Studies (SCLSR), an organization which supports political prisoners.
As a lawyer, al-Bunni defended many human rights activists and others who were arrested and persecuted on account of their political positions in the wake of the protests in 2000 and 2001 in Damascus. Al-Bunni also became a target of repressive measures due to this work. He and members of his family were systematically threatened, persecuted and defamed by the authorities. He was debarred by the Bar Association in Damascus.
In May 2006, al-Bunni was arrested along with several other human rights activists after they signed the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, in which 274 Lebanese and Syrian intellectuals called for a normalization of the relations between the two states. During his pre-trial detention, al-Bunni was tortured several times. In April 2007, after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards, al-Bunni was convicted of "disseminating false information threatening the state." By that time, he had already spent almost one year in the infamous Adra prison in Damascus. "It's a miracle that I am still alive," al-Bunni told ECCHR. He was not held with the other political prisoners but instead with the non-political inmates. On one occasion, some detainees who were loyal to the regime tried to throw him from a second-floor balcony. He survived only thanks to the help of other detainees.
Al-Bunni was released in May 2011. He now lives in Berlin. In 2008, he received the Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. In the same year, he was also awarded the annual Human Rights Prize of the German Richterbund (Judges Association).
Q&A: Legal background of the criminal complaint on Syrian torture cases filed in Germany.