To counter injustice with legal interventions – this is the aim and daily work of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
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 together with other international human rights lawyers, in order to protect and enforce the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other declarations of human rights and national constitutions, through legal means.
Together with affected persons and partners worldwide, ECCHR uses legal means to end impunity of those responsible for torture, war crimes, sexualized violence, corporate exploitation and fortressed borders.
More arrest warrants and prosecutions must follow
Berlin, 10 March 2020 – Today, the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, announced the first criminal trial worldwide on state torture in Syria will begin on 23 April. In using the principle of universal jurisdiction, the German judiciary is sending an important signal to survivors and those affected by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s system of torture and oppression. The main defendant is Anwar R., a former official at the General Intelligence Directorate. ECCHR supports 16 Syrians in the proceedings, nine of whom aim to be joint plaintiffs, the others, potential witnesses.
"In Syria, intelligence officers enjoy complete impunity,” said a Syrian who was imprisoned and tortured in the Al-Khatib branch detention center in Damascus. “It is inconceivable that they could be arrested, let alone held accountable. In Germany, I now see that it is possible. I witnessed prisoners being tortured to death and hope that Anwar R. will be convicted.”
As the head of the Al-Khatib prison’s investigations, Anwar R. is charged with being an accomplice responsible for torturing at least 4000 people, murdering 58 people, rape and aggravated sexual assault.
“The trial in Koblenz is an important step, if only a beginning on the long road to justice,” said Patrick Kroker, head of ECCHR’s Syria project. “Further arrest warrants like the one issued by the German Federal Court of Justice for Jamil Hassan are needed. Whether in Germany, Austria, Sweden or Norway, our goal is to bring to justice high-ranking members of Assad’s security apparatus who are responsible for torture, sexual violence, executions and the disappearance of tens of thousands of people in Syria.”
The trial in Koblenz is the result of a series of criminal complaints about torture in Syria that ECCHR and more than 50 Syrians, including torture survivors and their relatives, activists and lawyers, filed in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Norway starting in 2016.
The complaints in Sweden and Austria have already led to investigations. But the biggest step so far came from Germany – in June 2018, the Federal Court of Justice issued an international arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service until July 2019. ECCHR and its Syrian partner organizations’ criminal complaint with the German Federal Public Prosecutor played a crucial role.
"As the head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, Jamil Hassan was responsible for the torture me and my friends suffered. The international arrest warrant shows, that our criminal complaint is the right path to achieve justice”, says Yazan Awad, a Syrian torture survivors who cooperates with ECCHR.
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.
(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 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.
They survived torture and detention in Syria and fled to Europe, where they now hope to obtain justice. Austrian authorities should follow the example set in Germany, Sweden and France and initiate investigations into systematic torture under Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
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.
The Syrian government led by president Bashar al-Assad is responsible for systematic and widespread torture. ECCHR together with seven Syrian torture survivors as well as the Syrian lawyers al-Bunni and Darwish submitted the first criminal complaint against six high-level officials of the Syrian military intelligence service to the German Federal Prosecutor.
Eleven former Syrian employees of French company Lafarge submitted a criminal complaint against Lafarge. By having business relations with the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, the company may have taken part in the financing of the group, being therefore complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Syrian intelligence services have been collecting without cause information about political opponents, members of the opposition and human rights activists. Spying often goes hand in hand with torture. Software from Western corporations may have played a role in the surveillance. In order to address this, transnational investigations have to be initiated.
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