German court: Syrian colonel convicted for crimes against humanity

BERLIN (Parliament Politics Magazine): In an extraordinary trial, a German court condemned a Syrian colonel to life in prison for crimes against humanity under universal jurisdiction.

Anwar Raslan, 58, was accused of being linked to 4,000 people’s torture in a jail known as “Hell on Earth” during Syria’s civil war.

The trial in Koblenz is the first criminal case of the world, involving state-led torture in Syria.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, lauded the conviction as a “landmark leap forward” in the search for the truth.

It’s difficult to fathom what the men and women imprisoned in Syria’s notorious Al-Khatib prison had to go through.

Prosecutors said Mr Raslan led operations at the Al-Khatib facility in Damascus, where many protestors and others accused of opposing the regime were picked up and detained.

He was charged with 58 , rape, and sexual assault, murders as well as the torture of at least 4,000 persons detained there between the years 2011 and 2012.

The decision is crucial, particularly for individuals who survived Al-Khatib and testified at his trial. A criminal court has now legally declared that the Assad dictatorship committed crimes against humanity against its own civilians.


Jurisdiction is universal.

Raslan was apprehended in Germany in 2019 after successfully gaining refuge there. He disputed all of the claims levelled against him, stating that he had nothing to do with the maltreatment of inmates and that he had actively tried to help some of them.

For a number of reasons, his trial was extraordinary. It was a first in confronting state-led torture in Syria, and it was driven by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who sought refugees in Germany, forced to flee their own homeland.

Over 800,000 Syrians, now living in Germany, brought with them horrific stories of what happened to people who went against the Assad regime, and German human rights attorneys took up their cause, bringing the case to court on the principle of universal jurisdiction. This enables for the prosecution of serious crimes committed in one country to be tried in another.


What took place at Al-Khatib?

  • The underground prison centre is part of Syria’s General Security Directorate’s (GSD) “Branch 251,” one of the country’s four primary intelligence agencies.
  • According to witnesses and defectors, it comprises of two buildings in Damascus’ central Al-Khatib neighbourhood.
  • Anwar Raslan, the commander of Branch 251’s investigations department from April 2011, that was a month after the uprising against President Assad began, until his defection in September 2012, was accused of overseeing torture of detainees.
  • In April 2011, Syrian journalist Amer Matar testified in court that people were “being tortured without any logic” and that Raslan took off his blindfold, swore at him, and struck him in the face during one questioning.