German court’s historic crimes against humanity finding in Syria case must spur momentum for justice
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet hailed the “historic” conviction by a German court on Thursday of a senior Syrian intelligence official. Bachelet urged other States to take on investigation and prosecution of serious human rights violations that constitute international crimes using principles of universal and extra-territorial jurisdiction.
“This trial cast a much-needed, renewed spotlight on the kinds of sickening torture, cruel and truly inhuman treatment – including abject sexual violence – that countless Syrians were subjected to in detention facilities. It is a landmark leap forward in the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations for the serious human rights violations perpetrated in Syria over more than a decade,” Bachelet said. “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.”
The 58-year-old former official Anwar R was today convicted of crimes against humanity for the perpetration of killings, torture, serious deprivation of liberty, rape, sexual assault and hostage-taking. Anwar R was a supervisor of Eyad al-Gharib, who was convicted in February last year for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Syria.
“This is a clear example of how national courts can and should fill accountability gaps for such crimes wherever they were committed, through fair and independent investigations and trials carried out in line with international human rights laws and standards,” the High Commissioner said. “This serves as a powerful deterrent and helps prevent future atrocities.”
There have been a number of other criminal and civil cases against former officials and members of non-State armed groups accused of crimes in Germany and in other jurisdictions, including Austria, France, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands, among others. A number of proceedings are currently pending in national courts. In the case of Syria, action at national levels is particularly important as Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the Security Council has repeatedly failed to refer the situation to the ICC Prosecutor.
The 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment requires States Party to ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. They are required to establish jurisdiction over torture where the alleged offender is present on its territory.
The High Commissioner paid tribute to the victims, their families and civil society organisations who persist in their demand for justice in the face of tremendous obstacles. She also lauded the role of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria, as well as the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, whose support to national jurisdictions facilitates accountability processes, delivering justice for victims and survivors.
“This conviction has put State authorities on notice – no matter where you are or how senior you may be, if you perpetrate torture or other serious human rights violations, you will be held accountable sooner or later, at home or abroad,” Bachelet said.
(c) 2022, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner