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The Syrian Emergency Task Force and Partner Organization Statements on the Historic Koblenz Trial


The Syrian Emergency Task Force Celebrates Historic Verdict Against the Assad Regime

January 13,2022


Washington, D.C

On January 13, 2022, “the world’s first criminal trial over torture in Syria’s prisons ended on Thursday with a guilty verdict and life sentence for a former Syrian intelligence officer. The ruling came in a German case against Anwar Raslan, who was accused of more than 30 counts of murder, 4,000 counts of torture and charges of sexual assault from when he oversaw a notorious prison in Damascus in 2011 and 2012. The landmark trial marked the first time a high-ranking former Syrian official has faced Syrians in open court in a war crimes case,” reports Deborah Amos of NPR.

According to SETF’s Director of Advocacy, Veronica Zanetta-Brandoni, “The groundbreaking trial was based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, according to which national courts can prosecute individuals responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture (regardless of where they happened and of the nationality of victims and perpetrators) on the grounds that it is in the interest of humanity as a whole to do so.”

SETF is proud of the pivotal role that the Caesar File has played in the Koblenz trial, through its depiction and documentation of unlawful detention, torture, and killing by the Assad regime. SETF is  humbled to continue to manage the Caesar File, which remains a resource for accountability and advocacy efforts. As the historic case marks the first time Caesar Files have resulted in a legal ruling, SETF encourages parties involved in ongoing and future legal proceedings to resort to the almost 55,000 photos courageously smuggled out of Syria by Caesar, in order to seek justice for the countless victims and their families. SETF also highlights the role of the ‘Gravedigger’, known in court as ‘Z 30/07/19’, who testified against the Assad regime, as he described the mass graves where victims – including those from this trial -, were buried. The ‘Gravedigger’s heroic testimony, alongside the Caesar File, will be key for future accountability and advocacy efforts.

“Other trials against agents of the Syrian regime will soon begin in Germany, and this judgment should motivate authorities in other states to proceed with cases that are ready for indictment.  It also signals that there can be no normalization with a Syrian regime whose officials now risk imprisonment if they venture forth from the devastation for which they are responsible,” states Stephen J. Rapp, the Former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice and Advisor to SETF.

SETF commends the Commission for International Justice & Accountability (CIJA) for securing millions of evidentiary documents, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) for their collaboration with Syrian activists, lawyers, and organizations to file criminal complaints regarding torture, the survivors for their vital testimonies, and Germany for exercising universal jurisdiction demonstrating much needed leadership in pursuing international justice.

Press contact:

Celeste Brevard

Director of Communications, SETF

[email protected]

IIIM-Syria welcomes German Court’s Crimes Against Humanity Verdict 


Geneva, 13 January 2022 – The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism – Syria (IIIM) welcomes the landmark judgement against Anwar R, at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany. The former high-ranking Syrian official was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in torture, murder and sexual violence in his previous position as Head of the Investigation Department of Branch 251 of the Syrian intelligence services.

This verdict concludes a trial that saw many survivors of Branch 251 give witness testimony, and prosecutors make use of evidence and information that many actors and particularly Syrians, have bravely documented, collected and shared with accountability bodies.

Catherine Marchi-Uhel, the Head of the IIIM, said “The Koblenz ruling is highly significant not only for the direct victims and survivors these crimes, but also for the victims and survivors of the many unaddressed past and on-going violations in Syria. We must acknowledge that there is still much work to be done for justice to be delivered. This verdict reminds us all of what is possible and should leave perpetrators of serious crimes in no doubt that there will be accountability for their actions.”

Germany’s use of universal jurisdiction holding perpetrators of international crimes committed in Syria accountable, shows the vital role national jurisdictions play in providing paths to justice for victims/survivors of crimes committed in Syria. While no international court currently exists, national jurisdictions must continue to uphold international law by bolstering their own laws and processes. The IIIM’s Central Repository of Information and Evidence is a powerful resource for national war crimes units seeking to investigate and prosecute suspects.

“Sharing evidence and analysis is one leg of what is essentially a lengthy relay race of many accountability actors,” Ms. Marchi-Uhel stated “Our role at the IIIM is justice facilitation. We make use of information and material we have collected from many others and share it along with legal analysis and other support to jurisdictions, with the hope that it leads to many more trials and verdicts like those in Koblenz.”

While the IIIM does not comment on its involvement in specific cases, it is a matter of public record that the IIIM is supporting German jurisdictions. The IIIM seizes all available avenues for justice and prepares for those that may emerge in the future. Its primary purpose is to assist competent jurisdictions seeking to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of international crimes committed in Syria since 2011.  //ENDS//

Statement on German Court’s Conviction of Syrian Colonel Anwar Raslan

January 14, 2022
Washington D.C.

On January 13, 2022, a German court convicted a Syrian colonel, Anwar Raslan, to life in person, for crimes committed while serving the Assad regime. Raslan was accused of more than 30 counts of murder, 4,000 counts of torture, and sexual assault while supervising one of Assad’s most vicious prisons in Damascus from 2011 to 2012. This marks the first trial of a high-ranking Syrian official of war crimes.

Raslan defected in 2012 and was granted asylum in Germany in 2014.  He was then arrested in 2019 in Germany for crimes he committed in Syria.  Since April 2020, German judges have held more than 100 court sessions, hearing hundreds of witnesses and torture survivors. The trial was held pursuant to Germany’s universal jurisdiction, which allows the court to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in any country.

The Mission of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces to the United States applauds the court’s conviction and the efforts of Syrian civil society and individuals who helped bring justice. The Mission applauds the heroic efforts of the Syrian defector, Caesar, who brought out evidence of the starvation, beating, and torture systematically applied by the regime of Bashar Al Assad on tens of thousands of Syrians.

While today’s verdict delivered some justice to some Syrians, there are millions of Syrian victims spread throughout the world and within Syria who faced horrendous crimes by the regime of Bashar Al Assad, and these crimes may be the most well-documented in history. Syria has witnessed over a decade of violence perpetrated by an organized state premeditating violence against civilians. The Mission of the National Coalition to the United States calls upon the United States to continue to support all efforts to hold all other Syrian officials, of all ranks, accused of war crimes, accountable. This is the first step of many needed to ensure that justice is delivered to Syrians. Accountability is imperative to ending the on-going impunity in Syria.

For Press Inquiries:
Ammar Saed Aldien
The Razan Zaitouneh Legal Fellow
[email protected]

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