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2017 | ECCHR Criminal Complaint in Germany for Torture by Syrian Regime

The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is alleged to be responsible for systematic and widespread torture. Formerly targeting opponents and activists, the regime’s use of torture has increased since the beginning of the war that began in 2012. One of the mechanisms available for prosecuting such war-crimes is ‘universal jurisdiction’ – a jurisdiction triggered by the egregious nature of the crimes, as recognized by the international community as a whole. This jurisdiction is not strictly dependent upon a national connection between either the accused or the victim/s and the State that hosts the prosecution. This means that third States can prosecute crimes committed by foreign nationals, against foreign nationals, in their domestic courts. Generally speaking, however, third States are mostly reluctant to use this jurisdiction, for political as well as practical reasons. The Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) together with two Syrian lawyers, Anwar al-Bunni and Mazen Darwish, and seven torture survivors, has now submitted a criminal complaint to the Federal Public Prosecutor in Karslruhe, Germany on behalf of Syrian victims of crimes committed by the Syrian government. It has been facilitated in doing so by the fact that six of the seven witnesses now live in Germany.

 The complaint, founded on significant evidence and a strong legal analysis, aims for the initiation of an investigation by the Federal Public Prosecutor into the individual criminal responsibility of six suspects, as well as the issuance of international arrests warrants against them.  It is hoped that these important steps will also further increase public awareness of the systematic, on-going human rights violations in Syria and convince other states to join in efforts enabling the prosecution of such crimes on a broader scale.

 The executive summary describes the crimes alleged (CAH, torture, war crimes), the characteristics of the conflict, witness statements, the sites of the crimes and the suspects, the modes of liability and the jurisdiction of German Judiciary. The Portraits of the witnesses provide a few details about the circumstances that led each of them to participate in this joint criminal complaint in Germany.