Justice for Syria’s Victims: German Court Issues Historic Guilty Verdict on Crimes Against Humanity

Written by | Thursday, February 25th, 2021

In a first trial of its kind worldwide, a former member of the Syrian secret police has been sentenced by a court in the western German city of Koblenz to 4.5 years in prison for being an accomplice to crimes against humanity in his homeland. Former Syrian secret service agent Eyad A. was sentenced on Wednesday (24 February) to four-and-a-half years in prison on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. The 44-year-old is accused of rounding up people following anti-government demonstrations in the Syrian city of Douma nine years ago and delivering at least 30 of them to a secret detention center near Damascus known as Al Khatib where they were tortured.
The verdict by the German court marks the first time a court outside Syria has ruled on state-sponsored torture by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Human rights campaigners have welcomed the decision, hoping it will set a precedent for other cases. The defense on behalf of Eyad A. pleaded for acquittal, arguing that the accused could have been killed had he not followed orders. His lawyers also claimed that while Eyad A. had helped detain people protesting against the Syrian regime, he did not ultimately carry out his superior’s orders to shoot them. In bringing the case, German prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction in international law, which allows war crimes committed by foreigners to be prosecuted in other countries. “This momentous decision, through the efforts of incredible Syrians, is the beginning of a path to fuller justice in Syria,” tweeted Sara Kayyali, Syrian researcher with Human Rights Watch.
Eyad A. defected in 2012 and fled Syria a year later. After spending time in Turkey and Greece, he arrived in Germany in 2018 where he was recognized by his alleged victims, several of whom had come to Germany as refugees. He was arrested in 2019, along with a more senior ex-Syrian official, Anwar R., who is also on trial in Koblenz. During almost a year of hearings, more than a dozen Syrian men and women testified about the appalling abuses they endured in the Al Khatib detention center. The German court also reviewed thousands of photographs that were smuggled out of Syria by a police officer, showing alleged victims of torture.
The court’s verdict has been widely hailed as the „historic“ first step toward justice in Syria, paving the way for verdicts in war crime trials worldwide. It is the first time that a court has ruled that the Syrian government has committed crimes against humanity and that President Bashar Assad’s regime is conducting an offensive against the population that involves kidnapping, torture and murder. That evidence that was collected and examined demonstrates that there has been torture and killings on “an almost industrial scale,” according to the prosecutors. It also sends a clear message that Germany is not a haven for war criminals. On the flipside, the trial‘s weaknesses lay in the fact that Eyad was only a cog in the machine, while the main perpetrators of the brutal killings are still at large.

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