Syria trial in Germany: "Anwar R was part of Assad’s oppression system"

15.05.2020

Statement given by Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights:

"Whoever commits, orders or approves acts of torture should be prosecuted. This is set out in the German Criminal Code and the UN Convention against Torture.  

Torture in branch 251, also known as al-Khatib, of Syria’s General Intelligence Service in Damascus was and continues to be part of the system that keeps Bashar al-Assad in power. The Assad government has used widespread and systematic torture – not only since the peaceful protests in 2011, but for decades.  

As head of al-Khatib investigations, Colonel Anwar R is alleged to be part of this system of persecution, oppression and extermination. He was deeply involved in the system, and fulfilled his function and purpose.

According to the German federal public prosecutor, Anwar R did not only receive orders, but issued them to his subordinates. At the time, he would have felt safe from prosecution, as absolute immunity persists in Syria. The government is not interested in prosecuting these cases of torture, let alone bring those responsible before a court.

All too often, powerful actors avoid criminal prosecution. Time and again, low and mid-ranking perpetrators deny their responsibility, claim they were merely cogs in the machine, or show that they turned their backs on the torture system at some point.

What responsibility does someone like Anwar R bear for the state torture apparatus? Did he only obey orders? Or did he make his own decisions about if, when, and how detainees were tortured? 

These questions about individual guilt in a brutal system like Syria’s is nothing new. Lawyers have been dealing with it since the Nuremberg trials. But it is clear, at least since then, that acting on others’ orders does not justify committing crimes. 

Without individuals, the powerful, unjust state apparatus crumbles. In order to legally assess Anwar R’s guilt, the court will have to shed light on the Assad government’s system of torture. And this is what makes the trial in Koblenz so significant."    (ECCHR)

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