Syria trial in Koblenz: Sexual violence must be charged as a crime against humanity

Lawyers for joint plaintiffs demand the indictment be reassessed


Koblenz/Berlin, 19 November 2020 – Cases of sexual violence in Syria are not isolated incidents, they are systematically used to oppress the opposition. This must be acknowledged in the world’s first trial on Syrian state torture currently taking place in Koblenz, Germany. Patrick Kroker and Sebastian Scharmer, lawyers representing joint plaintiffs in the al-Khatib trial, have therefore requested today that the systematic use of sexual violence against the civilian population in Syria should be prosecuted as a crime against humanity.

Currently, the main defendant Anwar R is accused of two isolated cases of rape and sexual assault under German criminal law. However over the course of the trial, witnesses have provided more evidence about the systematic use of sexual violence – most recently, Rowaida Kanaan’s witness testimony today. Therefore, the lawyers for the joint plaintiff demanded that sexual violence be charged as a crime against humanity, specifically according to Article 7 Paragraph 1 Number 6 of the German Code of Crimes Against International Law (CCAIL), in order to appropriately address the extent of sexual violence in Syria.

Kanaan, a joint plaintiff in the al-Khatib trial and a women’s rights activist and journalist, said, “These are not opportunistic acts: rape, sexual harassment and forced nudity are used systematically against women and men in Syrian prisons to terrorize the population. Those affected by sexual violence are often discriminated against in Syrian society, and sometimes even rejected by their families. The Assad government uses this to weaken the opposition and Syrian civil society as a whole.”

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, which supports 17 torture survivors in the trial, welcomes the joint plaintiff lawyers’ demand. “The al-Khatib trial reiterates a well-known fact: the Assad government systematically uses sexual violence as a weapon. That is why the German judiciary must prosecute sexual violence for what it is: a crime against humanity,” said Andreas Schüller, head of ECCHR’s International Crimes and Accountability program.

In June 2020, ECCHR and its Syrian partner organizations Urnammu and Syrian Women’s Network demanded that the German judiciary prosecute sexual violence by Syrian intelligence services as a crime against humanity. Together with seven Syrian torture survivors, the organizations filed a complaint with the German Federal Public Prosecutor in Karlsruhe. Their aim was to have sexual violence recognized as a crime under international law in the existing arrest warrant against former head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service Jamil Hassan, and in further investigations about or indictments for the crimes in Syria.

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