The first trial worldwide on state torture in Syria started in Germany in April 2020 at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz. The main defendant was Anwar R, a former official of President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian General Intelligence Directorate. In January 2022, the trial ended with the convition of Anwar R to a life-long sentence for crimes against humanity. Already in February 2021, the court sentenced his colleague, Eyad A, to four years and six months in prison for aiding and abetting 30 cases of crimes against humanity.
In June 2018, it moreover became known that the Germany Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) had issued an arrest warrant against Jamil Hassan, until July 2019 head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service. This warrant, which can be enforced internationally, and the al-Khatib trial in Koblenz are milestones towards justice and accountability for all those affected by Assad’s torture system.
The al-Khatib trial and the arrest warrant are, among others, the result of a series of criminal complaints regarding torture in Syria, which ECCHR and more than 50 Syrian torture survivors, relatives, activists, and lawyers have filed since 2016 in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Norway.
In Syria, torture, executions and disappearances of civilians, genocides and sexualized violence are only some of the crimes committed by almost all conflict parties. There is little prospect of accountability for these crimes on an international level. The International Criminal Court is not an option as Syria is not a signatory to its statute and Russia is blocking a referral by the UN Security Council. This leaves the path through national courts: In some third party states like Germany, the principle of universal jurisdiction allows for the crimes to be addressed legally and to hold high- as well as lower ranking perpetrators accountable.
ECCHR has been working on crimes committed by all parties of the conflict since 2012 and is cooperating with a network of Syrian and international organizations, lawyers and activists.
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.
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.
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.
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.