War crimes are serious violations of international humanitarian law provisions applicable in international and non-international armed conflict. War crimes are part of the core crimes of international criminal law and are subject to universal jurisdiction. War crimes include e.g. intentional attacks on the civilian population or civilian objects such as hospitals and the use of chemical weapons.
The Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart handed down convictions in the trial of two Rwandan leaders of the Hutu militia group FDLR, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni. The FDLR are alleged to have utilized sexualized violence against the Congolese civilian population and to have in numerous cases plundered, killed and inflicted grievous bodily injuries.
In the course of a military action in Gaza in 2014, Israel’s armed forces killed, among others, members of the German-Palestinian Kilani family. For seven years, ECCHR and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) have attempted to seek justice on behalf of the bereaved son from Germany, Ramsis Kilani, for these attacks. In August 2021, the German Federal Public Prosecutor decided not to initiate proceedings.
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The criminal investigation into Lumumba’s assassination is part of a broader context of structural impunity for the crimes committed by European colonial powers during decolonization. While the long-term effects of colonization persist, direct accountability is rarely possible.
Despite countless attacks on civilian homes, markets, hospitals and schools – conducted by the Saudi/UAE-led military coalition – transnational companies based in Europe continued and continue to supply Saudi Arabia and the UAE with weapons, ammunition and logistical support. European government officials authorized the exports by granting licenses.
Since the final stage of the Sri Lankan civil war, ECCHR has been working to ensure that high-ranking military personnel and (former) members of the Sri Lankan government and security forces are prosecuted for their role in war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual violence.
Sri Lanka must comply with its international obligations in the fight against gender-based discrimination. The country should bring its law in line with the UN Convention on Women.
In November 2017, ECCHR and nine Syrian women and men filed a criminal complaint concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes with the German Federal Public Prosecutor. The complaint is directed against ten high-ranking officials of the National Security Office and Air Force Intelligence, among them Jamil Hassan, its former head.
The Syrian government led by president Bashar al-Assad is responsible for systematic and widespread torture. This is why in March 2017, ECCHR, seven Syrian torture survivors and lawyers Anwar al-Bunni and Mazen Darwish submitted the first criminal complaint against high-level officials of the Syrian military intelligence service to the German Federal Prosecutor.
The group around the former Syrian military police employee “Caesar” took for the first legal action by filing together with ECCHR a criminal complaint against senior officials from the Syrian intelligence services and the military police concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Eleven Syrian former employees of the French company Lafarge submitted a criminal complaint against Lafarge in 2016. By maintaining business relations with the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, the company may have contributed to the financing of the group, thereby making them complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The path to justice for war crimes and torture in Syria also leads through Europe. After Germany, Sweden and France, Austrian authorities have initiated investigations into the Syrian intelligence services’ role in systematic torture. This followed a criminal complaint submitted by 16 Syrians, ECCHR, and its partners to the public prosecutor in Vienna in May 2018.
The Syrian intelligence services have been collecting without cause information about political opponents, members of the opposition and human rights activists. Spying often goes hand in hand with torture. Software from Western corporations may have played a role in the surveillance. In order to address this, transnational investigations have to be initiated.
(Also) Sweden can play an important role in the fight against impunity for turture in Syria. This is why, in February 2019, nine torture survivors submitted a criminal complaint in Stockholm against senior officials in the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – including for crimes against humanity.
The first trial worldwide on state torture in Syria started in Germany in April 2020. The main defendant was Anwar R, a former official at the General Intelligence Directorate in Syrian President Assad’s government.
In order to end impunity for state torture in Syria, five Syrian torture survivors filed a criminal complaint in November 2019 in Norway. The complaint is the next step in a series of criminal complaints against 17 high-ranking officials of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government that have been submitted in Germany, Austria and Sweden.
After learning that Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi were being detained by the US at Guantánamo detention center, their families filed a criminal complaint before French courts asking authorities to investigate torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention. That was in November 2002. Since then, the French judiciary has been conducting investigations into the US torture program and the high-ranking officials responsible for it.
In March 2009, ECCHR partner lawyer Gonzalo Boye filed a criminal complaint against six former US officials of the Bush administration regarding their accountability for violations of international law, including war crimes and torture. The US officials became known as the “Bush Six.”
Between 2004 and 2007, three complaints were filed in Germany and in France against members of the US Government, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and members of the military forces in connection with war crimes, torture and other criminal acts in the military prisons of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.
ECCHR has filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Public Prosecutor calling for investigations into Gina Haspel’s role in the torture of detainees at a CIA secret prison in Thailand in 2002. Haspel was appointed director of the CIA by President Donald Trump in May 2018.
After more than six years, the International Criminal Court closed its preliminary examination of war crimes by UK forces in Iraq. The decision from December 2020 reveals systematic failures of international justice and proves, once again, that powerful actors can get away with torture.