Syrian torture victims file complaint in Germany over prison sex abuse

The criminal complaint accuses nine high-ranking Syrian officials of various sexual and gender-based crimes.

al-monitor A general view of the courtroom is seen during the trial of two Syrian alleged former intelligence officers accused of crimes against humanity, in the first trial of its kind to emerge from the Syrian conflict, in Koblenz, Germany, June 4, 2020. Photo by Thomas Lohnes/REUTERS.

Jun 19, 2020

A group of men and women who say they suffered sexual abuse in Syrian regime prisons have submitted a criminal complaint to the German federal prosecutor, the Berlin-based organization representing them announced Thursday. 

The complaint accuses nine high-ranking Syrian officials of crimes against humanity, including various sexual and gender-based crimes. 

“I want the international community and judicial authorities to know what we went through just because we are women,” said one survivor. “My greatest motivation to participate in this complaint is my faith in Germany’s impartial judiciary.”

The seven Syrians — four women and three men — were held in Syria's air force intelligence prisons between April 2011 and October 2013. According to the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which drafted the complaint, the former detainees “survived or witnessed various forms of sexual and gender-based violence including rape or its threat, sexual harassment, electrical shocks to the genitals, as well as forced nudity and forced abortion.” 

“When it comes to recognizing the gender-specific harm of international crimes, particularly sexual violence, the German justice system fails to explicitly charge suspects with crimes against humanity — which these crimes are,” Alexandra Lily Kather, a legal adviser with ECCHR, said in a news release. 

In April, a court in Koblenz, Germany, began a landmark criminal trial on state-sponsored torture in Syria, in which two suspected members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence services are charged with crimes against humanity. 

Anwar Raslan and Eyad Gharib are being tried under Germany’s sweeping universal jurisdiction law, which allows for the prosecution of grave crimes committed in another country regardless of whether a German national was involved.

The new complaint includes charges against Jamil Hassan, the former head of Syria’s air force intelligence services. Both France and Germany have previously issued arrest warrants for Hassan and ECCHR hopes to amend the charges against him to recognize sexual and gender-based violence as a crime against humanity. 

After nine years of war, the Syrian government continues mass arrests of perceived opponents. More than 130,000 people remain detained or forcibly disappeared by regime forces, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a local monitoring group.

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