This conviction has served as a warning to state officials: “If you commit torture or other significant human rights breaches, you will be held accountable, sooner or later, at home or abroad, no matter where you are or how senior you are.”
After a “historic” conviction by a German court of a former top intelligence official for the Syrian regime, who was jailed for life on Thursday for crimes against humanity, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a warning.
Anwar Raslan, 58, was facing charges of murder, torture, rape and sexual assault, as well as hostage-taking, in Koblenz. He was a supervisor of Eyad Al-Gharib, a junior regime officer sentenced to four and a half years in prison for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Syria in February last year, also in Koblenz.
Al-Gharib is accused of gathering up peaceful anti-government protestors and transporting them to a prison facility where they would be tortured. The ruling was the first time a court outside of Syria had ruled on a case involving state-sanctioned torture by Assad regime members.
When Al-Gharib was convicted, Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s permanent representative to the UN, stated the verdict sent a clear message to Assad that “whoever commits such crimes cannot be safe anywhere.” “Assad’s regime has turned the cradle of civilization into a torture dungeon,” he continued.
Bachelet urged other countries to follow Germany’s lead and investigate and prosecute international crimes based on established principles of universal and extraterritorial jurisdiction on Thursday.
“The kinds of sickening torture, cruel and truly inhuman treatment — including abject sexual violence — that countless Syrians were subjected to in detention facilities,” she said, adding that Raslan’s trial “cast a much-needed, renewed spotlight on the kinds of sickening torture, cruel and truly inhuman treatment — including abject sexual violence — that countless Syrians were subjected to in detention facilities.”
“It is a watershed moment in the pursuit of truth, justice, and compensation for the grave human rights atrocities perpetrated in Syria over the past decade,” she added.
According to Bachelet, the verdict acts as a powerful deterrence and will help to prevent future atrocities. She also asked other countries to step up their efforts to “widen the net of accountability” for those responsible for crimes perpetrated during the Syrian crisis.
“This is a clear example of how national courts may and should address accountability gaps for such crimes, wherever they occurred, by conducting fair and impartial investigations and trials in accordance with international human rights rules and norms,” she continued.
Bachelet also paid respect to the Syrian victims, their families, and the civil society organizations that have persevered in their calls for justice despite “tremendous difficulties.”
In Germany and other countries such as Austria, France, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, a dozen other criminal and civil proceedings involving former Syrian government officials and members of other armed groups are pending.
The Security Council has urged for individuals responsible for crimes committed during the Syrian civil war to be held accountable for years, but Syria is not a party to the court’s Rome Statute, hence the case has not been sent to the International Criminal Court.