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Germany: First Criminal Trial Worldwide on State Torture in Syria Begins

(Apr. 30, 2020) On April 23, 2020, the first criminal trial worldwide on state torture in Syria started at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany (docket no. 1 StE 9/19). The two defendants allegedly worked for the Syrian intelligence services and are charged with crimes against humanity in numerous cases. The trial is scheduled to conclude on August 13, 2020.

Applicable Law

The German Code of Crimes against International Law (CCAIL) grants German courts universal jurisdiction for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. These crimes are defined in line with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The CCAIL is supplemented by the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch, StGB).

Facts of the Case

The defendants are Syrian nationals. The defendant Anwar R. is charged as an accomplice to crimes against humanity that involved committing murder 58 times, rape, and aggravated sexual coercion as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population from April 29, 2011, to September 7, 2012. (CCAIL §§ 7, para. 1, nos.1, 5, 9; StGB § 25, § 177, para. 1, no. 1, para. 2, no. 1, para. 3, no. 1, § 211.) The defendant Eyad A. is charged with aiding and abetting a crime against humanity from September 1, 2011, to October 31, 2011. (CCAIL §§ 7, para. 1, nos. 5, 9; StGB § 27.)

The two defendants allegedly belonged to the Syrian General Intelligence Service. Defendant Anwar R. was supposedly in charge of the “interrogation” division (Division 251) in Damascus, which has a prison attached. According to the indictment, he had command authority for the interrogators and was the military supervisor of the prison’s personnel. The prosecution alleges that killings and torture were performed in Division 251 under his leadership and command. Between April 29, 2011, and September 7, 2012, a minimum of 4,000 prisoners were tortured for the duration of their incarceration, in particular by using brutal force such as beatings, kickings, and electroshocks. In at least one case, the victim was raped and subjected to aggravated sexual coercion. Furthermore, the prisoners were threatened with violence against their close relatives. The brutal physical and psychological abuse was used to force confessions and elicit information on the opposition movement. In addition, the living conditions in the prison were inhuman and degrading. For example, prisoners were denied medical and personal care, there was not enough food, the food given out was inedible, and prison cells were overcrowded.

At least 58 people have died as a consequence of the abuse. According to the indictment, the defendant Anwar R., as the person in charge of the interrogators and prison guards, was aware of the extent of the torture that took place and therefore also of the resulting deaths.

The defendant Eyad A. was employed in one of the subdivisions of Division 251. In the fall of 2011, he was searching for fleeing protestors together with colleagues after the violent break-up of a protest. In the end, at least 30 people were arrested and taken to Division 251. The defendant Eyad A. accompanied the transport in one of the buses. The arrested protestors were beaten during their transport to the prison as well as when they arrived at the prison. In prison, they were brutally abused and systematically tortured. The indictment alleges that the defendant Eyad A. had known when the protestors were arrested that there was regular and systematic torture at Division 251.

The defendants entered Germany on July 26, 2014 (Anwar R.) and April 25, 2018 (Eyad A.). On February 12, 2019, they were arrested. The defendant Anwar R. has been in pretrial detention since his arrest. The defendant Eyad A. was temporarily released in May 2019, but has been in pretrial detention since June 2019. The trial began on April 23, 2020. The Court has scheduled a total of 23 hearings.

The trial is expected to conclude on August 13, 2020, unless further hearings become necessary.