Germany jails former Syrian spy for crimes against humanity

A German court has sentenced a former Syrian spy to life in prison in a case the UN rights chief said could lead to accountability for other perpetrators of the war’s “unspeakable crimes”. It is the first case to find a senior official of the Bashar al-Assad regime guilty of crimes against humanity.
Anwar Raslan was a colonel of the regime who defected and was granted asylum in Germany. The judge in the case brought forward at Koblenz higher regional court, deemed Raslan to have overseen the murder of 27 and torture of at least 4,000 prisoners at a detention facility in Damascus, as reported by the Guardian.
The landmark verdict further lists Raslan’s crimes against humanity as entailing 25 cases of dangerous bodily harm, two cases of rape and sexual coercion, two cases of sexual abuse, 14 cases of deprivation of liberty lasting longer than a week, and two cases of kidnapping.
“Today’s verdict should serve to spur forward all efforts to widen the net of accountability for all perpetrators of the unspeakable crimes that have characterised this brutal conflict,” said UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, calling the verdict “historic”.
The ruling has been welcomed as a positive forward step towards justice by torture survivors. “This day, this verdict is important for all Syrians who have suffered and are still suffering from the Assad regime’s crimes against humanity”, said Ruham Hawash, a former prisoner at al-Khatib detention facility – Raslan oversaw as a commanding officer between 29 April 2011 and 7 September 2012 – and joint plaintiff in the case. “It shows us: justice should and must not remain a dream for us.”
The trial was possible due to the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows cases to be tried in one country even if the acts happened somewhere else. “Universal jurisdiction is often the last hope for victims of the most serious crimes,” said Wolfgang Kaleck, the general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which assisted several of the co-plaintiffs in the trial.
“In any case, today’s judgment creates a solid basis for other European prosecutors to pursue further proceedings. Dealing with crimes in Syria in third countries is not ideal – but possible, and a duty towards those affected.”

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Written by

Claire Gordon


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