German Court Convicts Syrian Official for Crimes Against Humanity

UN vehicles travel along a road lined with remnants of destroyed buildings, Homs, Syria. (file) Photo: UNICEF / UNI178367/ Tiku (file photo)
UN vehicles travel along a road lined with remnants of destroyed buildings, Homs, Syria. (file) Photo: UNICEF / UNI178367/ Tiku (file photo)

Amnesty reiterates its call to the UN Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

A Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, has convicted Eyad al-Gharib, a Syrian security officer, to four-and-a-half years in prison for crimes against humanity for his role in aiding and abetting the torture of detained protesters in Damascus. The court decision was announced on February 24.

In February 2020, Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, former Syrian officials, were arrested by German and French police. Both were charged with crimes against humanity, over the torture of detainees held in State Security branch 251, also known as al-Khatib, in Damascus.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has faced repeated accusations of  war crimes and crimes against humanity during the country’s civil unrest which began in March 2011 as part of the 2011 Arab Spring protests. But Russian and Chinese vetoes at the United Nations Security Council have impeded the attempts to set up an international tribunal. Syrian officials have denied the allegations with the argument that they target terrorists and not peaceful protesters.

The court verdict is being welcomed as an initial step to punish the despotic Syrian regime. “Today’s historic verdict – the first of its kind for crimes under international law committed by a Syrian government official – is a resounding victory for the tens of thousands of Syrian torture survivors and victims of enforced disappearance as well as for Syrian and international human rights and litigation organizations who together, for years, have fought relentlessly for truth and justice,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Lynn Maalouf. “These organizations helped ensure crimes were documented and legal files built for prosecution and without them this trial would not have been possible.”

It also sends a clear message to the Syrian government that those responsible for horrific violations will be brought to justice. This verdict comes almost 10 years after the first peaceful protests started in Syria – years during which the state deployed its machinery of cruelty against its own people, across its detention centers and prisons.

During these 10 years, according to Amnesty, the international community has consistently fallen short of taking concrete action in the face of ongoing egregious violations and to hold those responsible accountable.

Amnesty calls on more states to follow Germany’s example by investigating and prosecuting individuals suspected of committing war crimes or other crimes under international law in Syria through their national courts under the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’. 

Amnesty also reiterates its call to the UN Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure that perpetrators from all parties to the conflict – including those ‘most responsible’ – high-ranking officials and commanders – face justice.

For a decade Amnesty International says it has documented the systematic use of torture and other ill-treatment in Syrian places of detention – including al-Khatib. These violations, committed in the context of the armed conflict, constitute war crimes, and because they form part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, are crimes against humanity.

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Rakesh Raman