Assad regime officer sentenced to life in prison for Syria war crimes

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A German court has sentenced a former Syrian intelligence officer to life in prison for crimes against humanity, making him the first person to be convicted of a criminal conviction in the Assad regime’s torture program.

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Why this matters: Anwar Raslan, who fled Syria in 2012, was accused of overseeing a detention center that tortured more than 4,000 people during the first year of Syrian unrest, which eventually turned into a devastating, decadent civil war.

  • He is the first member of the Assad regime to be tried for war crimes in a foreign criminal court, which was made possible by Germany’s application of “universal jurisdiction” for some serious crimes.
  • Human rights activists say Raslan’s sentencing is a crucial moment that could prompt other European courts to act against alleged war criminals who – like the Assad regime – are not parties to the International Criminal Court.

Background: Like thousands of Syrians who fled their country during the civil war, Raslan claimed asylum in Germany in 2014.

  • He joined the exiled Syrian opposition and lived peacefully in Germany until authorities uncovered his role at the al-Khatib torture facility in Damascus.
  • After Raslan’s arrest in 2019, dozens of Syrian survivors came forward to testify against him during an extraordinary trial in Koblenz, a city in West Germany.
  • Prosecutors said at least 58 people were killed under Raslan’s watch. He denied the allegations.

big picture: Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad remains in power more than 10 years after the insurgency began, backed by Russia and his allies in Iran.

  • The regime is subject to tough international sanctions, but several Arab states have begun the process of normalizing relations with Syria, believing that Assad is here to stay.
  • This week, the top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees wrote President Biden for raising “urgent” concerns with his Syria policy – which he called “silent approval” of the Arab world’s push for normalization.

go in: Assad comes from the cold

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