German court finds Syrian man guilty of crimes against humanity
A former Syrian secret police officer was convicted by a German court Thursday of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago, a ruling the top United Nations human rights official described as “historic.”
Anwar Raslan is the highest-ranking Syrian official so far convicted of the charge. The verdict was keenly anticipated by those who suffered abuse or lost relatives at the hands of President Bashar Assad’s government in Syria’s long-running conflict.
“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,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said.
“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.”
The Koblenz state court concluded that the defendant was in charge of interrogations at a facility in the Syrian city of Douma known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251, where suspected opposition protesters were detained.
The court sentenced the 58-year-old to life in prison. His lawyers had asked judges last week to acquit their client, claiming that he never personally tortured anybody and that he defected in late 2012.
“This day, this verdict is important for all Syrians who have suffered and are still suffering from the Assad regime’s crimes,” said Ruham Hawash, a survivor of Branch 251 who testified in the trial.
“This verdict is only a beginning and we have a long way to go – but for us affected people, this trial and today’s ruling are a first step towards freedom, dignity and justice,” she said.
German prosecutors alleged that Raslan supervised the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people. Judges ruled that there was evidence to hold him responsible for 27 deaths.
A junior officer, E yad al-Gharib, was convicted last year of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz court to 4 1/2 years in prison.