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.
The road 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. The investigations were opened following a criminal complaint submitted by 16 Syrian women and men to the public prosecutor in Vienna in May 2018. “I hope that Austria will now follow the example of Germany and France and issue arrest warrants against senior officials of Assad’s torture system,” said one of the complainants, who was tortured in Damascus by the military intelligence service.
The criminal complaint against 24 high-ranking officials of the government of Bashar al-Assad is the first of its kind in Austria. It was compiled by the ECCHR and the Center for the Enforcement of Human Rights International (CEHRI) in Vienna. ECCHR and CEHRI lawyers worked closely with Anwar al-Bunni (Syrian Center for Legal Research and Studies, SCLSR) and Mazen Darwish (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, SCM).
In another case concerning torture in Syria, the public prosecutor in Vienna is investigating a suspect from the city of Ar-Raqqa who has been living in Austria. ECCHR is also supporting the investigation in this case.
In Germany, four similar complaints contributed to an arrest warrant against the head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service, which was issued in June 2018. “The arrest warrant against Jamil Hassan was a milestone in the fight against impunity for torture in Syria,” said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. “The Austrian authorities should also request evidence from Germany and France – for example further testimonies or the photos and data of the Caesar Files Group.”
Tatiana Urdaneta Wittek of CEHRI added: “The public prosecutor in Vienna has done important work in recent months. We are confident that the Austrian authorities will apply international criminal law as their colleagues did in Germany, France and Sweden. The crimes committed in Syria should be prosecuted throughout Europe, in a coordinated manner.”
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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