Today, the Koblenz Higher Regional Court updated the charges against main defendant Anwar R in the so-called al-Khatib trial. Incidents of sexual violence in the al-Khatib department are now indicted as acts of crimes against humanity committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population in Syria, not - as before - merely as individual cases under German criminal law.
“This trial shows again that the Syrian intelligence services systematically employ sexual violence as a weapon to oppress civil society,” said Joumana Seif from ECCHR, Syrian lawyer and women’s rights activist. “For us Syrians, for the many survivors and their families it is an important signal that the German court now treats it as such. This step can empower those affected – women and men – and give them hope to be acknowledged and seen.”
Those affected by sexual violence in Syria, particularly women, not only suffer from the deeds as such but often also face discrimination or are even cast out of their families. Bashar al-Assad’s government uses crimes like sexual harassment, forced nudity or rape to systematically weaken the population. In the al-Khatib trial, Syrian witnesses time and again reported of the social stigmatization that comes with these crimes. This is why in November 2020, Syrian joint plaintiffs’ lawyers Sebastian Scharmer and Patrick Kroker had applied to include sexual violence as a crime against humanity in the charges.
“Today’s decision closed a blatant gap in the proceedings,” declared lawyer Patrick Kroker. “Considering cases of sexual violence in the al-Khatib prison as individual acts would be a legal misjudgment. The charges now reflect more clearly the extent of injustice that prevails in the detention center and of which brave witnesses like our clients spoke repeatedly in the trial.”
Already in June 2020, ECCHR, its Syrian partners Urnammu and Syrian Women’s Network, and torture survivors submitted a complaint and asked the German judiciary to prosecute sexual violence committed by the Syrian intelligence services as a crime against humanity.
“From early on in the trial it should have been clear that sexual violence in Syria conducts a crime against humanity,” added Andreas Schüller, head of ECCHR’s International Crimes and Accountability program. “It is important that this will be included from the beginning in future proceedings addressing the crimes in Syria.”