A German court announced on Tuesday that the world’s first criminal torture trial by suspected agents of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime will begin on 23 April.
The Higher Regional Court in the German city of Koblenz said it will apply the principle of universal jurisdiction, in a move that is sending an important signal to survivors and those affected by the Assad regime’s system of mass oppression of suspected dissidents.
Germany has already issued arrest warrants for regime officials and aides who have helped the Assad regime carry out the mass torture on civilians.
The main defendant has been identified as Anwar R., a former official at the Syrian reigme’s General Intelligence Directorate and head of the notorious Al-Khatib prison.
Investigations surrounding the Al-Khatib prison shows, Anwar R. is charged with being an accomplice responsible for torturing at least 4,000 people – including the use of rape – and murdering 58 people.
In February 2019, Anwar R, along with accomplice Eyad A, were arrested in Berlin.
Eyad is suspected to have been responsible for manning a checkpoint close to Damascus in 2011, where typically around a hundred people a day were arrested before being imprisoned and tortured in Al-Khatib prison.
Another defendant is the head of Syria’s notorious Air Force Intelligence Directorate, Jamil Hassan, who is wanted by Berlin for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The warrant against him was issued in June 2018.
Hassan – a key aide of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad – oversees the regime’s most feared intelligence agency, which is believed to be responsible for the torture and murder of tens of thousands of civilians.
A breakthrough for Assad’s victims
The criminal trial has been hailed by Syria activists.
“The trial in Koblenz is an important step, if only a beginning on the long road to justice,” said Patrick Kroker, head of European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) Syria project.
“Further arrest warrants like the one issued by the German Federal Court of Justice for Jamil Hassan are needed.”
“A huge day for accountability and a testament to the power of the principle of universal jurisdiction as a date is set for the first criminal trial worldwide on state torture in Syria,” said human rights lawyer Mai El-Sadany.
Human rights lawyer Anwar Bounni welcomed the move, saying the court hall may be packed with people wanting to witness justice.
“It will be getting quite crowded on the very first days of trial. If more people want to get in than there is space, it is possible that not everybody can enter,” he said.
“It is not possible to pre-book for the entrance. Only journalists can try to get accredited.”
The Koblenz trial went ahead after a series of criminal complaints by rights organisations and dozens of Syrians in Europe, including those who have survived the Assad regime’s violence and friends and family of survivors.
State sponsored massacres
Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad lost huge swathes of the country following an armed uprising after the brutal repression of peaceful protesters in 2011.
According to the United Nations, close to 700,000 people have been forced to regime offensive since the start of December, although the real figure is meant to be much higher.
The war has killed more than 500,000 people since it erupted almost nine years ago, following the brutal repression of popular demonstrations demanding regime change.