On 23 April 2020, the first criminal trial worldwide on state torture in Syria started in Germany. The main defendant in front of the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz is Anwar R, a former General Intelligence Directorate official in Bashar al-Assad’s government. ECCHR supports 17 Syrian women and men in the Al-Khatib proceedings, seven of whom are joint plaintiffs, the others potential witnesses.
On the occasion of the trial’s opening, please find ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck’s statement below.
“The Al-Khatib trial at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, is of considerable importance worldwide. The power relations currently at play in the UN Security Council prevent the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal from taking action. This means that for the time being, the only proceedings possible must be conducted on the principle of universal jurisdiction in several European countries, such as the trial before the Koblenz court. Here, the Office of the German Federal Prosecutor has taken its task very seriously. This trial is supported by UN institutions especially established for this purpose – UN CoI Syria and IIIM.
The systematic investigation of the Assad government’s crimes – particularly systematic and widespread torture – is a start. It is a beginning. No more and no less.
The criminal proceedings are first of all important for the survivors involved in the trial. This trial is the first occasion on which they are speaking out – not only in public, but before a court – about what happened to them and what is still happening in Syria. But the trial is also important for the relatives of those who died in detention or have been “disappeared,” and for all those still in prison.
The trial will provide an overall picture of the crimes committed by the Syrian government. This knowledge can then be used by others and in other trials, be it in Arab countries or on the international level.
The two defendants’ role in these serious crimes, as well as their individual guilt, must be placed in the context of Syria’s broader repression apparatus. Anwar R is no small fish: the indictment accuses him of complicity in more than 4000 cases of torture.
Complementarily, further arrest warrants are needed against those responsible on the highest levels, such as that issued in 2018 by the German Federal Court of Justice against Jamil Hassan, the former head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service, which was assisted by ECCHR’s criminal complaints.
Whether in Germany, France, Austria, Sweden or Norway, ECCHR’s aim is to bring high-ranking officials of Assad’s secret service apparatus to justice. They are responsible for torture, sexual violence, executions and the “disappearance” of tens of thousands of people in Syria.”