To counter injustice with legal interventions – this is the aim and daily work of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
ECCHR is an independent, non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to enforcing civil and human rights worldwide. It was founded in 2007 by Wolfgang Kaleck and other international human rights lawyers to protect and enforce the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other human rights declarations and national constitutions, through legal means.
Together with those affected and partners worldwide, ECCHR uses legal means to end impunity for those responsible for torture, war crimes, sexual and gender-based violence, corporate exploitation and fortressed borders.
Torture in Syrian military hospital
Today, the German Federal Prosecutor's Office announced that it has filed charges under the principle of universal jurisdiction against Alaa M, a Syrian doctor who fled to Germany. M is accused in 18 cases of torturing people and subsequently killing one of them. In four of the cases, he is accused of causing serious physical and mental harm to a person. In two of the cases, he is accused of attempting to deprive another person of the ability to reproduce. M was arrested in June 2020 on strong suspicion of committing crimes against humanity and is being held in pre-trial detention. He is suspected of complicity in offences of sexual violence, torture, and the killing of Syrian civilians while working as a doctor and intelligence officer in the military hospital Mezzeh No. 601, known as the "Human Slaughterhouse" where the so-called Caesar photos were taken, the military hospital No. 608 and the detention center 261 of the military intelligence services in Homs. The trial could possibly begin later this year at the Frankfurt/Main Higher Regional Court.
"Grave crimes against Syria's civil society are not only taking place in the detention centers of the intelligence services: Syria's torture and extermination system is complex and only exists thanks to the support of a wide variety of actors," explains Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. "With the trial of Alaa M, the role of military hospitals and medical staff in this system could be addressed for the very first time. It is an important step for the German judiciary to carry on what has been started with the proceedings against Anwar R in Koblenz."
The role of military hospitals within the Syrian system keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power was made particularly clear by the so-called Caesar photos: Taken by a Syrian military photographer who deserted, bringing the images out of the country, the pictures show thousands of corpses, often with clear signs of torture. Many of the images were taken in military hospitals in and around Damascus. Witnesses in the al-Khatib trial which began at the Koblenz Higher Regional Court in April 2020, have also stressed the involvement of medical personnel in the Syrian government's crimes, in particular regarding the denial of medical care.
The trial could also be important in terms of addressing sexual violence as a systematic tool to oppress Syria’s civil society. Among other things, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office accuses Alaa M of violating a boy's genitals. "Sexual violence is being used as a weapon – systematically and intentionally - against the opposition in Syria. Those affected not only suffer physical and psychological consequences but are also stigmatized and discriminated by society. " Kaleck explains. "The trial of Alaa M could make them seen and thus also send an important signal to the many survivors who have remained silent until now."
ECCHR has supported the investigations into the case of Alaa M. In 2017, ECCHR filed a complaint that addressed crimes committed by the military intelligence service in Homs. ECCHR is supporting an affected person who plans to join the proceedings as joint plaintiff and will be represented by an ECCHR partner lawyer.
Since 2017, ECCHR has filed a total of seven criminal complaints addressing the crimes of the Assad government with investigative authorities in Germany, Sweden, Norway and Austria. In the al-Khatib trial in Koblenz, ECCHR supports 29 torture survivors, including 14 joint plaintiffs.
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.
The first trial worldwide on state torture in Syria started in Germany, in April 2020. The main defendant is Anwar R, a former official at the General Intelligence Directorate in Syrian President Assad’s government. ECCHR supports 17 Syrian torture survivors in the proceedings.
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