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.
Torture under Assad: Paving the way for first Syrian cases under universal jurisdiction laws
Berlin, 12 May 2017 – Criminal complaint in March, witness hearings in May: the German Federal Prosecutor has responded promptly to the first criminal complaint filed in Germany on torture in Syria. This week the complainants – nine Syrian torture survivors now living in Germany – gave witness evidence in Berlin. These nine women and men, including lawyers Anwar al-Bunni (Syrian Center for Legal Researches & Studies) and Mazen Darwish (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Speech) witnessed or were themselves subjected to torture in Syrian military intelligence run prisons. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) worked with them to file a criminal complaint in Karlsruhe on 2 March 2017 under the principle of universal jurisdiction against senior officials in Bashar al Assad’s government.
“As a lawyer, I know that legal proceedings can take a long time. But in the Syria case, there is a need to act fast. With every day of inaction, more innocent people are dying,” said Munem Hilaneh, one of the complainants, after the interviews. Al-Bunni added: “This is a strong message to the criminals that they will not go unpunished, and it is a hope message to the victims that justice will not forget them or ignore their rights.”
Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, German authorities can prosecute serious human rights violations regardless of where they were committed or the nationality of the victims and perpetrators. The complainants’ cases are representative of the torture system under Assad’s government. The goal is to ensure that the Federal Prosecutor investigates these cases and seeks international arrest warrants against those responsible. “Germany can and must play its role in bringing about legal action into the chain of command behind systematic torture in Syria,” said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck.
Since 2012, ECCHR has been examining crimes committed by different parties to the conflict in Syria. With the French organization Sherpa, ECCHR filed a criminal complaint against cement company Lafarge and its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) in November 2016 in Paris. The allegation: through its dealings with the “Islamic State” (ISIS) in Syria, LCS aided and abetted war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lafarge has since admitted making errors in its Syrian operations and in late April the company’s CEO announced his resignation.
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.
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