A former Syrian secret police officer was found guilty on Thursday of complicity in crimes against humanity by a German court for overseeing the abuse of detainees in a prison near Damascus a decade ago.
Enver Raslan has become the highest-ranking Syrian official ever convicted of crimes against humanity. The decision was awaited by victims who were persecuted or lost relatives at the hands of the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s long-running conflict.
The Koblenz state court ruled that the accused was responsible for questioning at a facility in the city of Douma, known as Al Khatib or Branch 251, where suspected opposition protesters were held.
The court sentenced the 58-year-old suspect to life imprisonment.
The legal team asked a judge last week to release his client, claiming that his client had personally tortured no one and fled Syria in late 2012.
German prosecutors accused Raslan of overseeing the “systematic and brutal torture” inflicted on more than 4,000 detainees between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in dozens of deaths.
Victims and human rights groups say they hope the ruling will be the first step towards justice for many people who are unable to file criminal charges with authorities in Syria or the ICC International Criminal Court.
Some experts say that as Russia and China thwart the UN Security Council’s efforts to refer cases of crimes against humanity in Syria to the court in The Hague, countries such as Germany that apply the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes will become the jurisdictions. for such experiments.
The verdict, which was heard in a German court today, marks the first time a senior Syrian official has been given a worldwide charge of crimes against humanity.
This is considered a lasting legacy in international criminal justice.
This is the second ruling on the “Caesar files”, which contain more than 26,000 photos of tortured in the Syrian regime’s mass detention centres.
Last year, another senior Syrian official was sentenced by the Koblenz high court to 4.5 years in prison for crimes against humanity and torture.
One of the key pieces of evidence against Raslan are photographs of torture victims allegedly abducted from Syria by a former police officer known by the pseudonym “Caesar”.
Human rights experts said it was important that the Koblenz court consider the allegations of sexual assault as one of the crimes against humanity for which Raslan was convicted. However, the judge did not convict Raslan for enforced disappearance, which means he would later have to be tried separately.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that the number of persons detained or forcibly disappeared in Syria is 149,000, or more than 85 percent of those held by the Syrian government. Most disappeared or were detained soon after the outbreak of peaceful demonstrations against the Assad government in March 2011, which were met with brutality.
The Syrian government refuses to label political prisoners and opposition groups as terrorists. After victories on the battlefield, Assad offered limited prisoner swap talks with various armed groups, saying the family provided only a partial solution for a small number of people. [em/jm]