Torture under the Assad Regime: Germany paves the way for first Syrian cases under universal jurisdiction laws


The Syrian government led by president Bashar al-Assad is responsible for systematic and widespread torture targeting opponents and activists not only as a reaction to the protests in 2011. There are currently only a few avenues left to prosecute international crimes committed in Syria. One of them is the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the German judiciary to become active and initiate first steps towards the road to justice without citizenship of the victims or perpetrators being a prerequisite.

In March 2017 ECCHR together with seven Syrian torture survivors as well as the Syrian lawyers Anwar al-Bunni (Syrian Center for Legal Researches & Studies) and Mazen Darwish (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Speech) submitted the first criminal complaint against six high-level officials of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service to the German Federal Prosecutor.

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 German Federal Prosecutor interviews torture survivors from Syria


The German Federal Prosecutor responded promptly to the first criminal complaint. At the beginning of May, the claimants gave witness evidence in Berlin. From the torture survivors’ perspective this was an important for step to achieve justice.

“As a lawyer, I know that legal proceedings can take a long time. But in the Syria case, there is a need to act fast. With every day of inaction, more innocent people are dying,” said Munem Hilaneh, one of the complainants, after the interviews. Al-Bunni added: “This is a strong message to the criminals that they will not go unpunished, and it is a hope message to the victims that justice will not forget them or ignore their rights.” And Darwish emphasized: “In Syria there is total impunity, which produces further violence. Without justice there will be no political solution.”

ECCHR cases are exemplary for the system of torture under Assad

The criminal complaint targets six officials known by name and further unknown officials of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service. The claimants were tortured or witnessed torture in the prisons of the intelligence services. The aim of this criminal complaint – the individual cases of which are exemplary for the system of torture under the Assad regime – is the issue of international arrest warrants and the begin of investigations by prosecutor’s office with respect to the persons identified as responsible for the committed crimes.

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Complainants Syria torture case – Portraits (318.4 KiB)

Torture under Assad: The long path to justice leads trough Germany

“We cannot look at the horror of Syria. We have to start describing what is happening in Syria with words and legal categories,” said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. “Germany can and must react to grave human rights violations such as torture, massacres and sexualized violence in Syria.”

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Excutive Summary: Criminal complaint to the German Federal Public Prosecutor Torture in Syria

Syria_Torture_Complaint_ECCHR_ExecutiveSummary.pdf (330.8 KiB)

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Special Newsletter Syria.pdf (540.7 KiB)