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In the news: Landmark Syria torture trial begins in Germany

Previous prosecutions related to Syria’s war have focused on low-level fighters. That changed on Thursday.

(orangesparrow/Flickr)

Two former Syrian security officers appeared in a German court on Thursday to face charges of crimes against humanity in a trial believed to be the first to attempt to bring accountability for torture committed during Syria’s nine-year war.

German prosecutors have charged Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib using the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows states to try cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide even if they took place outside the country where the case takes place.

Read more → European cases to test the reach of prosecuting Syria war crimes

Prosecutors allege that Raslan, a former colonel in the security services of President Bashar al-Assad who defected to the opposition in 2013, ran a prison where torture, rape, murder, and sexual assault were commonplace. Al-Gharib is accused of arresting protesters and bringing them to the detention centre. 

Raslan’s status as a relatively high-ranking member in al-Assad’s state apparatus makes the trial a key landmark for groups that have been working to document and prosecute atrocities in Syria’s war, as until now most trials have focused on low-level fighters.

The trial is expected to take months, possibly even years.

– Annie Slemrod

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