German court opens trial on torture in Syria

A trial against two former employees of Assad's secret service has begun in Koblenz on Thursday. This is the first time representatives of the Syrian regime have been put on trial for torture. Anwar R., one of the accused, is also charged with committing at least 58 murders. Despite its limited scope the German-language press sees the trial as an important signal.

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Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Good that we have principle of universal jurisdiction

Deutschlandfunk explains how the trial ended up in Koblenz in the first place:

“At any rate this is currently one of the few places where legal clarification is possible. A criminal trial in Syria against government employees for torture? Pretty unlikely. The International Criminal Court in The Hague? Blocked because Syria has not joined the court. Investigations on behalf of the United Nations Security Council? Blocked by Russia. What remains is the so-called principle of universal jurisdiction, which some countries - including Germany - have adopted into their national criminal law. According to this principle, crimes that have been committed abroad and have no connection to Germany can still be prosecuted in this country. This principle has been in force in Germany since 2002 - and it's a good thing it exists.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

At least a little justice

Those who ordered the crimes remain untouched for now but the trial is an important first step, writes Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“It's unlikely that Assad or others responsible for these crimes will ever be brought to justice. And the prospect of a criminal trial will hardly deter them from committing further crimes. ... Nevertheless the trial in Koblenz is of great importance for gaining insight into the Syrian torture system and as a first step towards bringing justice to the victims. Even if Assad remains in power it is important to clearly define the responsibilities: it's not the jihadists, the Turks, or the Russians who have spilled the most blood in Syria. It is Assad who is responsible for more than three-quarters of the deaths.”