German case may be setting precedent for more similar trials
A German court has found a former Syrian security official guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life behind bars for his alleged role in torture and deaths in a Damascus prison.
A court in the city of Koblenz found Anwar Raslan guilty of supervising the killings of 27 prisoners at the Al-Khatib detention center, which happened during the conflict in Syria.
The 58-year-old was accused of ordering torture and murder of detainees while serving in the Syrian security services. The crimes were said to have been committed between 2011 and 2012, early on into the protracted conflict in Syria.
Berlin claimed the right to prosecute the Syrian man by the right of universal jurisdiction. The legal theory holds certain crimes to be so heinous, regardless of where they took place, that they are said to be committed against humankind, with every nation having the moral right to prosecute those responsible. Germany adopted the concept into its legal system in 2002, with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity subject to prosecutions.
Raslan's trial in Germany began in April 2020. In February, a younger second defendant in the case, Eyad al-Gharib, was found guilty and sentenced to four years and six months in prison for being an accessory to crimes against humanity.
German prosecution asked for a life sentence for Raslan, with no possibility of parole during the first 15 years of incarceration. It was claimed that the former official was involved in victimizing as many as 4,000 people.
Both men reportedly defected from government forces in the early days of the war and lived in several different nations, before arriving in Germany as asylum seekers. They were arrested in 2019, after some of their former victims recognized them.
The potentially precedent-setting case was hailed by opponents of the Syrian government, who say Germany offered a venue for its victims to seek justice. The verdict was called "really historic" by Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. His organization provided some of the evidence during the trial.
Germany has previously tried other people under universal jurisdictions, including a suspected former jihadist who was sentenced for participating in an abduction of a Canadian citizen. However, the trial in Koblenz was remarkable since the two defendants in the case were convicted for what they did while serving the government in another country.