Guilty Verdict in Syrian War Crimes Trial in Germany: Live Updates

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Credit…Bernd Lauter / Agence France Presse – Getty Images

A German court on Thursday found a former Syrian security agent guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison. He is the highest Syrian official to be held responsible for government abuses during a decade of civil war.

The former officer, Anwar Raslan, has been accused of overseeing a detention center where prosecutors said at least 4,000 people were tortured and nearly 60 were killed.

The verdict marks a turning point for an international network of lawyers, human rights activists and Syrian war survivors who have struggled for years to bring those responsible for sanctioning or participating in the violence to justice.

During nearly 11 years of civil war, the Syrian government has bombed residential neighborhoods, used poison gas and tortured countless inmates in state prisons, but so far no high-level officials have been held responsible for these acts, which human rights lawyers characterize as war. crimes.

Mr Raslan’s guilty verdict, they say, strengthens the ability of European courts to pursue similar cases while sending a message to war criminals around the world that they may one day suffer the consequences.

“This is the first time that members of the Assad regime are to be tried in an ordinary criminal court,” said Stefanie Bock, director of the International Center for Research and Documentation on War Crimes Trials at the University from Marburg in Germany. “It sends a clear message to the world that some crimes will not go unpunished. “

But while Mr. Raslan, a former colonel, held a high rank in a Syrian intelligence service, he was more of a cog than a pillar of President Bashar al-Assad’s government and his vast repressive apparatus.

After more than a decade of war, Mr. al-Assad remains in power, and it seems unlikely that he or his top military advisers or commanders will be on trial anytime soon. They rarely travel abroad, and only go to countries they can count on not to arrest them, such as Russia, a staunch supporter of Mr. al-Assad.

Other potential avenues of justice have also been blocked. Syria is not a party to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and Russia and China have used their veto in the United Nations Security Council to prevent Syria from being referred to the court.

Germany is among the few European countries that have sought to try former Syrian officials for war crimes on the basis of universal jurisdiction, the principle of international law that says certain crimes are so serious they can be prosecuted. anywhere.

This is how Mr Raslan was tried by the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, a small town in western Germany.

Mr. Raslan, 58, oversaw a security office and detention center in Damascus, the Syrian capital, during the early days of the war.

German prosecutors argued that his position allowed him to monitor torture, including beatings, kicks, electric shocks and sexual assault. Witnesses at the trial said they were fed inedible food, denied medical attention and held in overcrowded cells.

At least 58 people have died as a result of abuses under Mr. Raslan’s authority, prosecutors said. In a statement to the court, Mr. Raslan denied being involved in any acts of torture.

He entered Germany on a visa in 2014 and lived there legally until German authorities arrested him in 2019.

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