Syria

UN panel welcomes landmark guilty verdict in Germany’s prosecution of former Syrian intelligence officer for crimes against humanity

“Verdicts such as today’s represent much-needed progress towards achieving justice for victims and survivors of war crimes in Syria,” the panel said

GENEVA (13 January 2022) – The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic today welcomed the verdict announced by the Koblenz Higher Regional Court in the case of the former Syrian intelligence officer Anwar R., who was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment, but emphasized more needs to be done to achieve justice for Syrian victims and survivors.

The court found Anwar R. guilty of the crimes against humanity of “killing, torture, serious deprivation of liberty, rape and sexual assault in combination with murder in 27 cases, dangerous bodily injury in 25 cases, particularly serious rape, sexual assault in two cases, over a week of deprivation of liberty in 14 cases [and] hostage-taking in two cases and sexual abuse of prisoners in three cases.”

“Verdicts such as today’s represent much-needed progress towards achieving justice for victims and survivors of war crimes in Syria - despite the fact that pathways to accountability remain curtailed in Syria and at the UN Security Council,” Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission, said.

Anwar R. was charged with complicity in the torture of thousands of people between 2011 and 2012 in the Al-Khatib Branch (Branch 251) of Syrian General Intelligence in Damascus.

In February 2021, the same court sentenced Eyad A., an associate of Anwar R., to four and a half years’ imprisonment for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, marking the first time a former member of the Syrian intelligence services was convicted in a third State universal jurisdiction case related to the ongoing conflict.

Three reports by the Commission were read into evidence during the trial. Persistent advocacy and cooperation by victims, witnesses, and activists in Germany were a vital feature of the proceedings.

In 2002, Germany adopted a Code of Crimes against International Law, allowing German courts to try crimes against international law committed in other countries where neither the perpetrator nor the victim is a German national under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The Code also excludes the statute of limitations for these crimes.

“Outcomes such as today’s would not be possible without the tireless efforts of victims and family associations,” Commissioner Hanny Megally said. “If Member States want to achieve justice for Syrians, it is the meaningful participation of those Syrian voices that must be supported.”

The Commission noted that efforts to hold those most responsible for such crimes must continue. States should support such efforts by ensuring adequate financial and other resources and legislative frameworks are in place.

The Koblenz trial concerned events in the early days of the conflict in 2011-2012.

However, the Syria Commission of Inquiry recalls that torture, ill-treatment, rape, enforced and acts tantamount to enforced disappearances have continued in Syria, as documented in more than 20 regular mandates reports and 13 thematic reports, including its most recent report focused on detention in March 2021. Further, more than 100,000 people are estimated to remain missing due to the conflict.

“The impact of today’s outcome is enormous, but we should not forget that the conflict and crisis in Syria are far from over,” Commissioner Lynn Welchman said. “Right now in Syria, there are victims of torture and disappearance languishing in incommunicado detention across the country, and countless Syrians are still waiting for news of their loved ones.”

Contacts

For media requests, please contact Rolando Gómez at +41 (0) 22 917 9711 / rolando.gomez@un.org , Johan Eriksson, CoI Media Adviser, OHCHR, + 41(0) 76 691 0411 / johan.eriksson@un.org , Matthew Brown / matthew.brown@un.org , or Pascal Sim at +41 (0) 22 917 9763 / simp@un.org