Syrian refugees will be coming face to face with their torturers in what is said to be a landmark legal case to prosecute Syrian officials responsible for committing crimes including crimes against humanity during the long-running conflict.
A German court will hear statements from dozens of witnesses this week about their ordeal during the trial of former members of Syria’s secret police suspected of overseeing the abuse of detainees at a notorious jail near Damascus known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251.
One of the members, a 57-year-old man known as Anwar R – whose surname wasn’t released for privacy reasons – has been accused of committing crimes against humanity, murder and rape. A second suspect, identified as Eyad A, was allegedly part of a unit that arrested people following a demonstration in the city of Douma and took them to Branch 251, where they were severely mistreated. Like their victims, both men left Syria for Germany.
The case will be heard under the principle of “universal jurisdiction” which allows victims to try anyone accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity even if they were committed in a different jurisdiction, outside the country.
Federal prosecutors catalogued some of heinous crimes which Anwar R is alleged to have carried out. As a senior member of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, Anwar R will have overseen the “systematic and brutal torture” of more than 4,000 prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people, prosecutors are reported saying in AP News.
Thirty-four-year-old Wassim Mukdad is one of the victims who will come face to face with his alleged torturers during his testimony. Describing his ordeal to AP, which began at the same time as the popular uprising erupted in 2011, Mukdad said that he “was taking part in demonstrations, demanding freedom and civil society, liberties and democracy”.
Following the second demonstration, Mukdad recalled how he was detained in the same branch as where R allegedly used to work. During his detention he said that he was tortured and interrogated. He accused the Syrian regime of being behind chemical attacks and spoke of others that also suffered the same fate.
Stressing the significance of the trial, Wolfgang Kaleck, head of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, said: ‘This trial is of considerable importance worldwide. The trial will provide an overall picture of the crimes committed by the Syrian government”.