A former Syrian security officer has been found guilty of crimes against humanity by a court in Germany, sentencing him to life in prison.
It marks the highest-ranking Syrian regime official to be held accountable for crimes committed by the Assad government during the ongoing war that has already lasted more than a decade.
Anwar Raslan was accused of overseeing an Assad government detention center. Prosecutors said at least 4,000 people were tortured there and nearly 60 were killed.
It is a watershed moment for justice and accountability for Syrian survivors of human rights abuses. It is also a huge win for a network of international lawyers and human rights activists helping survivors in the fight to bring Assad officials who sanctioned or participated in the violence to justice.
The war will pass its 11th anniversary this March. Through the decade-plus of war, the Assad government has bombed residential neighborhoods, used poison gas, and relentlessly detained and tortured countless civilians. The crimes amount to war crimes according to human rights lawyers and experts.
Until now, no one in a high-ranking position has been held accountable.
The guilty verdict bolsters the ability of European courts to pursue related cases, and also sends a message to war criminals globally that consequences will, one day, be faced, and their crimes will not go unpunished.
Raslan was a former colonel and held a high rank in the intelligence service. They say he was more of a cog than a pillar in Assad’s government and repression.
Despite decades of war and human rights crimes, Assad still clings to power in Syria. There appears little promise of he or his senior advisers and military commanders standing in a trial for their crimes anytime soon.
But European countries have made efforts to hold people accountable. Germany is one a few countries that have sought to bring former officials to trial for their war crimes, based on universal jurisdiction, which is the principle of international law that says some crimes are so horrific and grave that they can and should be prosecuted anywhere.