German trial of ex-officials of Syrian regime begins

The trial of two former officials of the Syrian regime began in Germany on Thursday for their roles in committing crimes against humanity.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - The trial of two former officials of the Syrian regime began in Germany on Thursday for their roles in committing crimes against humanity.

One defendant is Anwar Raslan, 57, who worked in Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate. He held the rank of colonel and headed an investigations unit at the Khatib Detention Center in Damascus, also known as “Branch 251.” 

Raslan is charged with crimes against humanity, 58 murders, and related acts of rape, and sexual assault. A second defendant, Eyad al-Gharib, 43, who worked under Raslan, is accused of aiding a crime against humanity.

Both men defected from the Syrian regime and sought political asylum in Germany, where some 750,000 Syrians have found refuge since the country’s ongoing civil war began with anti-regime protests in March 2011.

German prosecutors say that Raslan committed his crimes between April 29, 2011, and September 7, 2012, “in the context of an extensive and systematic attack on the civilian population.”

Some 4,000 detainees were tortured at the unit that Raslan headed at Branch 251, the prosecution says. Gharib was a subordinate of Raslan’s, and, as the prosecution charged, knew of the torture.

In 2011, Gharib searched for people who had fled a demonstration in Damascus, which the regime had forcefully suppressed. He participated in the arrest of 30 protestors and took them by bus to the prison, where they were detained. They were beaten on the drive to the prison and, again, on their arrival, the prosecution said. 

Objective of German War Crimes Trials 

In 2002, Germany adopted the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which allows it to prosecute war crimes, wherever they occur in the world, and regardless of whether its own citizens are involved. Germany has already prosecuted such crimes committed in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia, but this is the first time that it—or any other party—is holding a trial related to atrocities committed by the Syrian regime. Germany’s war crimes trials are modelled on the Nuremberg trials, held by the victorious Allied powers in Nuremberg, Germany, after the Nazis were defeated and World War II ended.

The aim of the Nuremberg trials was not only to hold individuals accountable for the crimes they had committed, but also to expose the atrocities of the Nazi regime itself.

The trial of Raslan and Gharib is expected to last at least a year. While proving that the two defendants are guilty of the charges they face, the prosecution will also seek to expose the crimes of the Syrian regime.

Officially, Damascus denies that it tortures its own citizens. The German news magazine, Der Spiegel, noted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was asked last November by “Russia Today” about these trials.

"We have no torture units. Why should we torture?,” Assad replied. “If there are isolated cases, these may be individual acts of revenge."

It is doubtful that any reasonable person will believe that, after these trials.

Editing by John J. Catherine