Advocacy update

Justice Initiative Welcomes First-Ever Conviction of Syrian Official for Crimes Against Humanity

Date
February 24, 2021
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LONDON—Today, the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, delivered a verdict on Eyad al-Gharib, a former Syrian official charged of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity by assisting torture and murder. Al-Gharib was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for his actions as a military officer, during which he transported at least thirty civilians to the notorious Damascus prison Branch 251, thereby aiding and abetting torture and unlawful detention. This is the first ever conviction of a Syrian official for a role in the torture and detention of civilian protesters.

The charge against Al-Gharib pertains to his actions during the Syrian military’s response to peaceful protests in 2011 in Duma, near the Syrian capital. During that time, he was with approximately 1,000 security officers at a demonstration of between 3,000 and 6,000 people at the Almasjed Alkabeer Mosque. According to Al-Gharib, Hafez Makhlouf, head of a section of Syria's state security directorate and member of President Bashar al-Assad's "inner circle," ordered military officers, including Al-Gharib, to fire on protestors. Al-Gharib participated in searching for fleeing protesters and transporting them, by bus, where they were beaten, to Branch 251. The dozens of civilians that Al-Gharib detained and brought to Branch 251 were tortured, some to death.

The Higher Regional Court held that Al-Gharib was aware at the time of arresting and detaining the civilians at the mosque that they would be tortured and that torture was part of a planned and organized government strategy to suppress and intimidate civilians. Al-Gharib was convicted of aiding and abetting one count of torture and unlawful detention for having inflicted serious bodily and psychological harm on civilians and depriving them of personal freedom, in violation of section 7 of the German Code of Crimes against International Law.

“This ruling affirms that successful prosecutions of Syrian crimes are possible using witness testimony and evidence painstakingly gathered by Syrian NGOs and activists,” said Steve Kostas, senior legal officer at the Justice Initiative. “Moreover, it underscores that the actions of individual Syrian officers cannot be seen in isolation from the mass crimes committed by the government, which led a systematic and widespread attack on its own civilians.”

Al-Gharib was put on trial alongside Anwar Raslan, a more senior Syrian official charged with crimes against humanity, rape, aggravated sexual assault, and 58 murders at Branch 251. Their cases were severed after the Higher Regional Court heard all evidence and witnesses pertaining to Al-Gharib’s crimes, allowing it to deliver a judgment sooner and expedite closing his case. The trial against Anwar Raslan is scheduled to continue at least through October 2021.

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