Where in Europe is Syria's Assad regime on trial?

Cases across the continent put a spotlight on abuses by the embattled government

Syrian campaigner Yasmen Almashan holds pictures of victims of the Syrian regime as she and others wait outside the courthouse where former Syrian intelligence officer Anwar Raslan is on trial in Koblenz, western Germany on January 13, 2022 where the verdict is expected on charges for crimes against humanity.  - A historic verdict is expected on January 13, 2022 in the trial of the former colonel of the Syrian intelligence services prosecuted for crimes against humanity - the first procedure in the world linked to the abuses committed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.  (Photo by Bernd Lauter  /  AFP)

As a former Syrian intelligence colonel is sentenced to life in prison in Germany for crimes against humanity, we look at the growing number of cases being brought in Europe against loyalists of President Bashar Al Assad's regime.

In February 2021, the same court in Koblenz that convicted Anwar Raslan on Thursday, jailed a lower-ranking former Syrian intelligence agent, Eyad Al Gharib, for being an accomplice to crimes against humanity in the world's first prosecution over the abuses.

Germany

Germany has used the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, including war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed, after receiving complaints from Syrians who claim to have been tortured in regime jails.

In March 2017, seven Syrian torture survivors and a human rights group filed a criminal complaint in Germany against Syrian secret service officials.

Later that year nearly 27,000 photos taken by a former Syrian military photographer known as Caesar, who documented torture and death in regime jails, were also turned over to German courts, according to German rights group ECCHR.

In November 2017, the ECCHR announced that two new complaints for crimes against humanity and war crimes had been filed by 13 Syrians over alleged acts of torture.

Victims of torture in Syria and human rights activists want justice for countless Syrians who suffered abuse in the country's long-running conflict. AP

Seven other Syrian men and women who claimed to have suffered or witnessed rape and sexual abuse in Assad regime detention centres also submitted a complaint to German prosecutors, the group revealed in June 2020.

They named nine senior government and air force intelligence officials, including top Syrian intelligence officer Jamil Hassan, already the subject of an international arrest notice.

The trial of a Syrian doctor accused of torture, murder and crimes against humanity is due to start in Frankfurt on January 19.

France

In September 2015, a Paris prosecutor opened a preliminary inquiry against the Assad regime for crimes against humanity over allegations of abduction and torture.

The following July, the family of a Syrian doctor who died in a government prison lodged a complaint in Paris over his torture and murder.

Another French court opened an investigation in 2016 into the disappearance of Mazen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, two French-Syrian nationals who had been arrested in Syria three years earlier.

France issued its first international arrest notices for Syrian intelligence officials in 2018 for “complicity in acts of torture” related to the case as well as “complicity in crimes against humanity” and “complicity in war crimes".

The warrants were for National Security Bureau director Ali Mamluk, Air Force Intelligence chief Jamil Hassan and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, who was in charge of the Damascus branch of the Air Force Intelligence investigative branch.

In April 2021, three NGOs that had lodged civil complaints managed to get a probe opened into chemical attacks in 2013 blamed on the Syrian government. The case, already filed in Germany, was lodged on behalf of victims of the 2013 attack and a 2017 attack using sarin gas.

In December 2021, a French-Syrian man was jailed, suspected of providing material to the Syrian army which could be used to make chemical weapons.

It is the first time that someone had been found charged in France with supporting Assad regime troops, judicial officials said.

Elsewhere

In July 2017, a Spanish court rejected a complaint filed by a Spanish woman of Syrian origin against nine Syrian government officials over the forced detention, torture and alleged execution of her brother in 2013.

Legal proceedings have also been launched in Austria, Norway and Sweden, which was in 2017 the first country to sentence a former soldier for war crimes.

In Sweden, four NGOs lodged a complaint in April 2021 against Assad and several top officials after two chemical attacks in 2013 and 2017.

In 2016, the United Nations set up its International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, which is preparing war crimes charges against individuals over the Syrian conflict.

Since April 20 the body has been gathering evidence for use in possible future trials.

Updated: January 13th 2022, 10:34 AM