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.
Here is a snapshot of the cases:
– 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.
Seven other Syrian men and women who claimed to have suffered or witnessed rape and sexual abuse in Assad’s 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 Assad’s 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’s troops, judicial officials said.
– Other countries –
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.
– UN mechanism –
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.