The Higher Regional Court of Koblenz in Germany sentenced a former Syrian high-ranking official today to life imprisonment for his involvement in crimes against humanity. A German-French joint investigation team (JIT), which was set up with support of Eurojust and the Genocide Network, made a significant contribution to those investigations that led to this landmark judgment.
Today’s judgment is the first time worldwide that a high-ranking Syrian official has been convicted for crimes against humanity. As such, it will leave a lasting mark on international criminal justice. It is the second conviction related to the ‘Caesar files’, a document containing over 26,000 pictures of the torture of victims in mass detention centres of the Syrian regime. Last year, an associate of the high-ranking official was already sentenced by the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz to 4.5 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity and torture.
In cooperation with national investigators and prosecutors working on the case, Eurojust and the Genocide Network prepared the ground for the JIT. It was set up in 2018 to support the investigations and ultimately prosecute the suspect. After setting up the JIT, Eurojust provided long-term analytical assistance and organised regular coordination meetings to enable swift judicial cooperation between the German and French authorities.
The convicted official, a former member of the Syrian intelligence services, was arrested in February 2019 in Germany with the above-mentioned associate. The Court held the Syrian, who was convicted today, directly responsible for the death of 27 members of the opposition to the regime, as a result of torture and inhumane conditions of imprisonment, in 2011 and 2012.
At the time, the convicted person was the head of the Investigations Section within the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate’s Internal Branch, also known as Branch 251. The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against both defendants in October 2019, with trials starting in August 2020.
Eurojust and the Genocide Network fully support judicial authorities across the European Union who are stepping up proceedings against perpetrators of terrorist offences and core international crimes in Syria. Actions of judicial authorities and civil society to hold the Syrian regime accountable for crimes committed in Syria were the main focus of last year’s EU Day Against Impunity.