Federal Prosecutor's Office v. Anwar R.
First Prosecution of Syrian Government Officials for Crimes Against Humanity
The accused, Anwar R., is the most senior former Syrian government official to be arrested and prosecuted in Europe under the principles of universal jurisdiction for atrocity crimes allegedly committed in Syria. German prosecutors have charged him with crimes against humanity over his alleged role in the torture and abuse of over 4,000 detainees allegedly held under his command between the end of April 2011 and the beginning of September 2012. He faces 58 related murder charges due to the deaths of detainees, as well as charges of rape and aggravated sexual assault.
Anwar R. is being tried together with a subordinate, Eyad A., who faces a charge of aiding and abetting a crime against humanity involving the torture of 30 detainees. Under German privacy laws, prosecutors withhold the surnames of the accused.
Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID), or state security service, is one of the four main domestic security services. The GID played a leading role in efforts by the government of President Bashar al-Assad to suppress widespread peaceful protests that broke out in areas of the country in early 2011. The GID used brutal force, widespread arrests, systematic torture, and unlawful killings in an effort to intimidate the population and suppress opponents of the government.
German prosecutors are pursuing this case under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which provides national courts with the authority to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed on foreign territory by foreign nationals. For more, see the briefing paper produced by the Justice Initiative and TRIAL International: “Universal Jurisdiction Law and Practice in Germany”.
For trial updates, the following resources are available:
From at least April 29, 2011 until September 7, 2012, Anwar R. was the head of the Investigations Section in the GID’s Internal Branch, also known as Branch 251, or the al-Khatib branch.
Branch 251 was the Directorate’s branch responsible for the governorates of Damascus and Rural Damascus. The Syrian regime often transferred high-level detainees to Branch 251. The photos of at least 145 detainees who died in Branch 251 custody appear in the Caesar report, a report that details the systematic killing of more than 11,000 detainees by the Syrian government in one region over a two-and-a-half-year period from March 2011 to August 2013.
According to the charges issued by German prosecutors, Anwar R. ordered and commanded the procedures in the prisons, including the systematic use of brutal torture. This physical and psychological abuse was intended to coerce confessions and gain further information on the opposition movement.
Prosecutors allege that from April 2011 to the beginning of September 2012, subordinates of the accused subjected at least 4,000 prisoners to brutal and massive torture. The interrogations featured a variety of torture methods, including blows with fists, sticks, pipes, cables, whips and hoses, and the administration of electric shocks. Such abuse caused the deaths of at least 58 people.
The co-accused, Eyad A., was employed in a subdivision that worked under the Investigation Unit of Anwar R. In late 2011, at a detention centers under Anwar R.’s command, he is accused of allowing the torture and detention of at least 30 people following the suppression of protests in the city of Douma.
Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement
Starting in 2017, the Justice Initiative partnered with the Commission for International Justice and Accountability to investigate Anwar R. and other suspects in Europe. Along with a number of other civil society groups, the Justice Initiative submitted dossiers of incriminating documents, photos, and witness statements to the office of the German federal prosecutor prior to Anwar R.’s arrest.
The Open Society Justice Initiative also represents five survivors of torture from detention and interrogation carried out under Anwar R.'s command. German statutes give victims’ lawyers an active role in the courtroom by formally taking the role of a private accessory prosecutor, allowing them to participate in the proceedings alongside the public prosecutor.
Prosecution of Anwar R. and Eyad A. begins at the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz.
The Federal Prosecutors Office issues indictments against both men, before the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz.
German police arrest Anwar R. in Berlin and Eyad A. in the southwestern town of Zweibruecken. A third former GID officer is arrested in France on the same day.
Eyad A. arrives in Germany and seeks political asylum.
Anwar R. arrives in Germany and seeks political asylum.
Eyad A. leaves Syria.
Anwar R. leaves Syria.
Anwar R. leaves his position as head of Branch 251.
Eyad A. leaves his position in Branch 251.
Eyad A. takes up a position in Branch 251.
Anwar R. takes up a position as head of Branch 251.
Major unrest begins in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Aleppo, with protestors demanding that President Bashar al-Assad accept democratic reforms and release political prisoners. As protests spread, the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) begins mass arrests and detentions, systematically torturing prisoners.
Dates Announced for Trial of Anwar R., Syrian Official Accused of War Crimes
The most important Syria atrocity trial to date is scheduled to begin in Germany on April 23, 2020. The accused is Anwar R., a former high-ranking Syrian official who will stand trial for crimes against humanity.
Universal Jurisdiction Law and Practice in Germany
The principle of universal jurisdiction allows national courts to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed on foreign territory by foreign nationals. This briefing paper provides an overview of Germany's legal framework on universal jurisdiction and was produced in partnership with TRIAL International.
Building Roads to Justice in Syria
The Open Society Justice Initiative is part of a broad movement of Syrian and international groups that are bringing some of those responsible for atrocity crimes in Syria before courts in Europe.