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Trial Against Two Accused Syrian Torturers Starts in Germany

Michael Laubsch

The world’s first trial of state torture in Syria began in the city of Koblenz, Germany, presenting the indictment by the prosecutor in Koblenz. Two alleged ex-intelligence officials of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are accused of torture. Human rights organizations recognized the start of the trial as a milestone in dealing with serious human rights violations in Syria. The first witnesses will be heard on April 24, a court spokeswoman said. The Koblenz Higher Regional Court has scheduled 23 trial days until August 13.

Anwar R. and Eyad A. are accused of crimes against humanity. They are said to have been jointly responsible for torturing numerous people in a secret service detention center. Anwar R. is accused of being an accomplice. In connection with this, he is charged with murder, rape and serious sexual assault in 58 cases. He reportedly headed a Syrian general intelligence agency with an attached prison.

According to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Eyad A. is suspected of having committed aid in torture. He was employed in a subdivision that assisted Anwar R.’s investigative work. In autumn 2011, he enabled at least 30 people to be tortured.

According to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the two suspects left Syria about seven years ago and came to Germany in 2014 and 2018. They were arrested in February 2019. According to the principle of international law, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity can be punished anywhere, no matter where the acts were committed. In Germany this is regulated by the International Criminal Code of 2002.

Victims and human rights defenders hope that the trial will send a signal. It could help pave the way for international proceedings and law enforcement against the head of the Syrian regime, the Berlin organization ECCHR said. Amnesty International spoke of “a milestone in the fight against impunity for the most serious human rights violations in Syria”, Human Rights Watch of a “bright spot for Syria”. The crimes continued there, stressed victims and human rights organizations.

The German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) also called the trial historical: “For the first time, thousands of horrific tortures and ill-treatment are being prosecuted at an independent court in Germany,” she said. “This sends the clear message: war criminals must not feel safe, anywhere.” The German Judges Association recognized the trial as “an important signal for the consistent protection of human rights by the German judiciary”. The federal prosecutor’s office is currently conducting more than 100 investigations into crimes against international law that have been committed in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Mali, Nigeria, the Gambia, Ivory Coast and Congo, among others.