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.
Joint plaintiff’s lawyers demand indictment be reassessed
Berlin/Koblenz – Enforced disappearance in Syria must finally be addressed in the world’s first trial on crimes by the Syrian state, currently taking place in Koblenz, Germany. Therefore, today, partner lawyers of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in the al-Khatib trial, Patrick Kroker, Sebastian Scharmer and René Bahns, filed a motion to the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz on behalf of 13 joint plaintiffs. Numerous witnesses and survivors of the al-Khatib branch have brought the enforced disappearance of themselves or their relatives to the court's attention. However, until now, these crimes are only included as cases of deprivation of liberty in the charges against Anwar R. The motion requests the court to update the charges and include enforced disappearance of civilians as a crime under international law.
“Accountability for the missing is crucial to deliver justice to survivors and the families of the disappeared,” states Joumana Seif, Syrian human rights defender and research fellow at ECCHR. “Acknowledging the crime of enforced disappearance in the al-Khatib trial, is a first step to pave the way for transitional justice in Syria.”
Although German law explicitly criminalizes enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity under Section 7 (1) No. 7 of the German Code of Crimes against International Law, the current indictment against Anwar R qualifies the alleged cases of abduction and detention merely as severe deprivation of liberty under Section 7 (1) No. 9 of the CCAIL. This classification does not adequately address the specific harm done to disappeared individuals and their families when they are left in the dark about the fate and whereabouts of their close ones. The Syrian regime uses this practice systematically to target peaceful protestors and other opponents, to oppress and punish civil society. Around 150.000 individuals have been disappeared in Syria since 2011.
Andreas Schüller, director of ECCHRs’ international crimes and accountability program, welcomes the motion filed today: “All too often, the crime of enforced disappearance is neglected in court in favour of charges that are deemed easier to prove, such as murder or unlawful detention. It is essential to investigate and prosecute enforced disappearances as distinct crime to reflect the immense harm done not only to the victims, but to families and friends who are left in the dark about the whereabouts of their loved ones, and the harm ultimately done to civil society as a whole.”
Last week, in addition to this motion filed in Koblenz, ECCHR submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to highlight the current accountability gap for the crime of enforced disappearance in the German criminal proceedings against Syrian regime officials. In July 2020, Germany announced in its report to the UN Committee to prosecute enforced disappearances in the al-Khatib trial. So far, this is not the case. The report also demands reforms of German criminal law: Germany should amend the definition of enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity in the CCAIL to align with the UN Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Since April 2020, ECCHR supports 29 torture survivors in the al-Khatib trial, 14 of whom are joint plaintiffs. Over the years, ECCHR repeatedly addressed in its seven criminal complaints in Germany, Sweden, Norway and Austria the need to investigate the crime of enforced disappearance in Syria.
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.
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. Here you will find regular updates on the proceedings.
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