Ex-officer jailed for Syrian war crimes after landmark German trial

Anwar R, a former Syrian officer of Syrian President Bashar el-Assad's intelligence agency arrives at the higher regional court of Koblenz before the verdict in his trial for crimes against humanity, including torture and killing in Koblenz, Germany, January 13, 2022. Anwar R. received a life time sentence by the court. Thomas Frey/Pool via REUTERS

KOBLENZ, Germany, Jan 13 (Reuters) – A German court on Thursday jailed a Syrian ex-intelligence officer for life for murder, rape and crimes against humanity, handing down the first ever conviction for state-backed torture committed during Syria’s civil war after a landmark trial.

Anwar Raslan was found guilty on 27 of out 58 counts of murder, rape and sexual assault carried out at a Damascus prison run by a unit of President Bashar al-Assad’s security services that he headed.

The Assad government denies it tortures prisoners.

The trial was held under Germany’s universal jurisdiction laws, which allow courts to prosecute crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

Prosecutors supported by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) had gathered evidence since 2016 from nearly 50 Syrian torture survivors living in Germany, and from others based elsewhere in Europe, the ECCHR – an NGO founded by lawyers in 2007 – said.

Mariam Alhallak, whose son died during interrogations by government agents after being abducted at Damascus University in 2012, the year after the war began, welcomed the verdict.

“It means a lot to me because I have a feeling that justice is happening,” she said outside the court in the western German city of Koblenz, one of a group of Syrian mothers holding pictures of children they said were killed or tortured in Syrian government facilities.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet hailed what she called “a landmark leap forward” in pursuing justice for the serious human rights violations perpetrated in Syria.

“This is a clear example of how national courts can and should fill accountability gaps for such crimes wherever they were committed,” she said in a statement from Geneva, urging other states to employ the same princples of extra-territorial jurisdiction.

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