Judicial authorities and civil society are stepping up actions to hold the Syrian regime accountable for torture and the use of chemical weapons against civilians in the armed conflict, which started ten years ago. In a landmark judgment, earlier this year the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz in Germany sentenced a Syrian to 4.5 years’ imprisonment for involvement in the torture of victims. Following a joint investigation team (JIT) between Germany and France, supported by Eurojust, another judgment is expected later this year. Furthermore, in recent months, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in three EU Member States have lodged formal complaints against alleged perpetrators for a number of chemical attacks.
These are some of the main observations at the outset of the 6th EU Day Against Impunity for Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes, organised by the Genocide Network Secretariat and Eurojust. In view of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the annual event will be held in an online format, with declarations from participants available on the Eurojust YouTube channel.
EU Day against Impunity 2021
The 6th EU Day against Impunity for Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes brings together Syrian victims and the civil society, prosecutors, national authorities and representatives of EU bodies and agencies. The video highlights different perspectives on the work done by the EU to ensure accountability for crimes committed in Syria. In short reflections, speakers present challenges and successes of current and future trials in national courts, address victims’ expectations, and explain why justice matters.
Eurojust President Mr Ladislav Hamran said: ‘Although their prosecution is highly complex, the EU does not accept impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Member States are choosing not to look the other way and I am glad that Eurojust and the Genocide Network continue to provide support to prosecutors and judges dealing with these cases. By doing so, we jointly serve the rule of law – one of the values on which the EU is founded.’
European Commission for Justice Mr Didier Reynders stated: ‘On this special day, I want to congratulate the Genocide Network on its excellent work. This Eurojust’s role is clearly paying off. Together, we must continue to act and join forces. In the next years, the Commission will reinforce the Agency’s ability to cooperate with new partners in the Middle-East. We already have a series of effective tools to ensure judicial cooperation, such as the European Arrest Warrant or the European Investigation Order. We also presented the first EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights to strengthen cooperation among actors on victims’ rights and promote high standards for victims’ rights around the world. However, more can still be achieved. We will continue working on improving cross-border cooperation and ending impunity.’
Apart from European Commissioner Mr Reynders and Eurojust President Mr Hamran, victims, prosecutors, national representatives and members of civil society will speak out during the EU Day Against Impunity to investigate and consider judicial action against alleged perpetrators of core international crimes in Syria.
The EU Day Against Impunity is an annual event gathering specialised prosecutors and other stakeholders who exchange information and best practice to take action against suspects who are present or reside in EU Member States, in order to ensure genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (so-called core international crimes) are not met with impunity.
The Genocide Network Secretariat at Eurojust coordinates the work of prosecutors across the European Union who specialise in taking on impunity for core international crimes. The Network started monitoring the situation in Syria in 2012, which led to a Eurojust case. Ten years after the outbreak of the armed conflict in Syria, the Network dedicates the 6th EU Day Against Impunity to recent results and ongoing actions against the Syrian regime, including for its use of torture and chemical weapons against civilians.
On 24 February this year, the first verdict in a court case in the European Union against a Syrian regime perpetrator was given, with a former intelligence service agent sentenced to 4.5 years’ imprisonment for his involvement in the torture of victims during their arrests and detention by the regime.
Another verdict is expected later this year against a second accused currently standing trial in Germany, following the outcome of a JIT supported by Eurojust since 2018. This JIT is led by judicial and law enforcement authorities in France and Germany, to facilitate the arrest and prosecution of Syrian war criminals, following the Caesar report on the systematic starvation and torture of thousands of civilian victims in detention centres in Syria, since 2011. Eurojust continues to support this JIT, financially and operationally, enabling both countries to directly share evidence, knowledge and resources.
At the same time, NGOs contribute to accountability efforts in EU Member States. Between October last year and last month, three different NGOs in Germany, France and Sweden have lodged formal complaints against Syrian nationals and asked for the setting up of another JIT to coordinate investigations into the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
Eurojust and the Genocide Network Secretariat stand ready to support requests from national authorities to coordinate judicial actions across the European Union. The European Parliament recently adopted a resolution calling to continue judicial efforts to take on the impunity of the Syrian regime.