Crimes against humanity – defined as a systematic attack on a civilian population – tend to be planned or at least condoned by state authorities: heads of government, senior officials or military leaders. In some cases, companies also play a direct or indirect role in their perpetration.
The term “crimes against humanity” was first defined during the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. Under this definition the Nazis' mass extermination of the Jewish population in Europe and other groups was a genocide but it also constituted a crime against humanity as a whole.
When crimes against humanity – which can include ethnic cleansing, enslavement or deportation of a population – are perpetrated today, those responsible for them can be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court or in certain national jurisdictions under the principle of universal jurisdiction. All too often, however, those responsible enjoy absolute impunity.
ECCHR works to end impunity for crimes against humanity. Together with affected persons, civil society organizations and an international network of partner organizations and lawyers, ECCHR undertakes legal interventions to bring those responsible to justice.
Enslavement, arbitrary detention, sexual violence – these are just some of the serious crimes that migrants and refugees have been systematically subjected to in Libya. In order to bring an end to impunity for such crimes, ECCHR and its partners have, in cooperation with 14 survivors, filed a communication to the International Criminal Court.
Crimes against humanity
In June 2020, the German police arrested Alaa M, who has since been held in detention awaiting trial. The reason: strong suspicion of complicity in crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime since 2011. Approximately one year after his arrest, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced that it had filed charges against M, a former Syrian doctor who allegedly tortured, killed and sexually abused people in military hospitals.
Crimes against humanity
When a country is governed by an authoritarian regime, civil society is almost always placed under immense pressure. This was also the case in The Gambia from 1994 until 2017 during the rule of Yahya Jammeh. His armed security forces generated an atmosphere of fear, in which critical voices, along with civil society in general, were systematically intimidated. Journalists critical of the regime were arrested, while human rights defenders were persecuted, and LGBTQ individuals were threatened and tortured.
German authorities must finally prosecute sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Syrian detention centers for what it is: a crime against humanity. This is the aim of a criminal complaint that seven survivors of Bashar al-Assad’s torture system submitted in June 2020 to the German Federal Public Prosecutor in Karlsruhe.
The first trial worldwide on state torture in Syria started in Germany in April 2020. The main defendant was Anwar R, a former official at the General Intelligence Directorate in Syrian President Assad’s government.
In November 2017, ECCHR and nine Syrian women and men filed a criminal complaint concerning crimes against humanity and war crimes with the German Federal Public Prosecutor. The complaint is directed against ten high-ranking officials of the National Security Office and Air Force Intelligence, among them Jamil Hassan, its former head.
Eleven Syrian former employees of the French company Lafarge submitted a criminal complaint against Lafarge in 2016. By maintaining business relations with the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, the company may have contributed to the financing of the group, thereby making them complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart handed down convictions in the trial of two Rwandan leaders of the Hutu militia group FDLR, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni. The FDLR are alleged to have utilized sexualized violence against the Congolese civilian population and to have in numerous cases plundered, killed and inflicted grievous bodily injuries.
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 path to justice for war crimes and torture in Syria also leads through Europe. After Germany, Sweden and France, Austrian authorities have initiated investigations into the Syrian intelligence services’ role in systematic torture. This followed a criminal complaint submitted by 16 Syrians, ECCHR, and its partners to the public prosecutor in Vienna in May 2018.
(Also) Sweden can play an important role in the fight against impunity for turture in Syria. This is why, in February 2019, nine torture survivors submitted a criminal complaint in Stockholm against senior officials in the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – including for crimes against humanity.
The Syrian government led by president Bashar al-Assad is responsible for systematic and widespread torture. This is why in March 2017, ECCHR, seven Syrian torture survivors and lawyers Anwar al-Bunni and Mazen Darwish submitted the first criminal complaint against high-level officials of the Syrian military intelligence service to the German Federal Prosecutor.
The Colombian state is denying women the protection against sexual crimes and access to justice that it is obliged to guarantee under national and international law. In response, ECCHR has submitted a criminal complaint against Colombia to the International Criminal Court.
In order to end impunity for state torture in Syria, five Syrian torture survivors filed a criminal complaint in November 2019 in Norway. The complaint is the next step in a series of criminal complaints against 17 high-ranking officials of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government that have been submitted in Germany, Austria and Sweden.
In Syria, the word Saydnaya has become a synonym for unimaginable torture, systematic degradation and mass executions. Together with four individuals who survived the torture in Saydnaya ECCHR has filed in Germany a criminal complaint against seven high-ranking Syrian military officials.
Death threats, telephone surveillance, kidnapping of family members – the Colombian government uses a range of means in its efforts to intimidate human rights defenders. Since 2012, ECCHR has researched and documented the brutal repression of trade unionists, environmental activists or community leaders in Colombia.
ECCHR submitted a communication to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requesting action on violence against trade unionists and human rights defenders in Colombia.
General Padilla was General Commander of the Colombian Military Forces when the practice of “falsos positivos” escalated. He is presumably responsible for international crimes committed by his subordinates, he neither prevented nor punished the wrongdoers.
Sri Lanka must comply with its international obligations in the fight against gender-based discrimination. The country should bring its law in line with the UN Convention on Women.
Since the final stage of the Sri Lankan civil war, ECCHR has been working to ensure that high-ranking military personnel and (former) members of the Sri Lankan government and security forces are prosecuted for their role in war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual violence.
ECCHR sent an advisory opinion to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The statement seeks to draw the commission’s attention to the cases of two persons who suffered severe injuries when they were shot at by Bahraini security forces before being forcibly removed from hospital, imprisoned, and abused.
In the Mercedes Benz case ECCHR is assisting relatives of trade unionists who disappeared from a Mercedes Benz plant in Buenos Aires. A senior manager at the company stands accused of involvement in the disappearances and murders of trade union activists carried out by Argentine security forces.
In December 2005, Wolfgang Kaleck, founder and general secretary of ECCHR, filed a criminal complaint against former Uzbek minister of interior Zakir Almatov, the Uzbek head of secret service Rustan Inojatov, and others to the Federal Public Prosecutor on behalf of eight Uzbek citizens because of torture and crimes against humanity.