Crime & Justice

First trial into alleged Syrian war crimes opens in Germany

By Juan Palop

Berlin, April 23 (efe-epa).- A landmark trial against Anwar Raslan, a former high-ranking Syrian intelligence officer accused of war crimes, started on Thursday in Germany.

It is the first trial worldwide on state torture during former president Bashir al-Assad’s regime in Syria since the country’s devastating civil war started nine years ago.

Germany has adhered to the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity since 2002, which means these offences can be prosecuted in its courts even if they were committed in another country.

Wolfgang Kaleck, German lawyer and founder of the ECCHR, which will represent 17 victims and witnesses during the trial, said the proceedings are of “considerable importance worldwide”.

“The systematic investigation of the Assad government’s crimes – particularly systematic and widespread torture – is a start. It is a beginning. No more and no less,” he added in a statement.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director, said: “This trial is a historic step in the struggle for justice for the tens of thousands of people unlawfully detained, tortured and killed in Syrian government’s prisons and detention centers.”

Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, another senior-ranking intelligence officer, have been accused of crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in the Syrian state regime.

Raslan has been charged with 58 counts of murder, relating to people who allegedly died while being tortured in prison in Damascus between April 2011 and September 2012 when Raslan was a military officer.

During this period around 4,000 political dissidents were imprisoned and tortured at Branch 251 of the Syrian military intelligence service by Raslam’s subordinates.

German prosecutors described beatings, electric shocks, sexual assault and prisoners hanging from the ceiling by their wrists.

“As head of the investigations unit, the accused … supervised and determined the use of systematic and brutal torture,” prosecutors wrote in a statement online.

Al-Gharib has been charged with complicity in the 58 alleged murders.

Kaleck said: “The criminal proceedings are first of all important for the survivors involved in the trial.

“This trial is the first occasion on which they are speaking out – not only in public, but before a court – about what happened to them and what is still happening in Syria.

“But the trial is also important for the relatives of those who died in detention or have been ‘disappeared,’ and for all those still in prison.”

He said it could also set a precedent for the prosecution of others responsible for human rights violations around the world.

Raslan, who had defected from the regime and fled to Germany, was arrested in February last year.

German authorities launched an investigation into him after several of his alleged victims, who were also asylum seekers in Germany, saw him in Berlin and reported him.

He had arrived in Berlin with his family in 2014 after leaving Syria two years earlier on a visa obtained at the German embassy in Oman and applied for asylum before the refugee crisis began.

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