They recognized him from the lab coat, a bit like what happened to the doctors of the Nazi concentration camps. On Friday, a Syrian refugee doctor in Germany was arrested for crimes against humanity in a military hospital in Homs Syria. According to the German prosecutor, the man, Alaa Mousa, suspected of torturing a detainee, in at least two cases in a prison managed by Syrian intelligence in 2011.
the end of 2011 when Alaa Mousa is summoned to Homs prison. A man arrested for taking part in a demonstration had an epileptic attack following torture. Mousa – according to the prosecution – instead of treating the patient he would have beaten the arrested person with a plastic tube, then he would have kicked him once he had fallen to the ground. The victim’s condition worsened the following day. But the suspect, along with another prison doctor, beat the prisoner until he lost consciousness. At that point the prisoner, hidden in a blanket, is taken away. And he dies, most likely from the torture he suffered. Like many other Syrians, Alaa Mousa leaves Syria four years later. And it arrives in Germany, where at least 1 million Syrian refugees find asylum. Checks are few, arrivals are many: the German government is unable to carry out all the necessary checks. IS Mousa can safely rebuild a life. And he goes back to being a doctor in a Kassel clinic. Until last year, when he was put under investigation following the complaint of a Syrian refugee in Germany who recognized him.
The Alaa Mousa case is not the only one. His arrest comes as two former members of the Syrian secret police have been on trial in Koblenz since April, on charges of crimes against humanity and for torturing hundreds of protesters. Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, a former colonel of the Syrian secret police, 57 years old, and a high-ranking Syrian official, 43. Since 2008 Raslan has headed the investigation division of section 251, responsible for the country’s internal security. In 2011 he had been promoted to colonel. Eyad al Gharib was his subordinate. He was in charge of detecting the demonstrators and arresting them. According to reconstructions, between 29 April 2011 and 7 September 2012, Raslan ordered the torture of at least four thousand people, 58 of whom died. Al Gharib would provide assistance in thirty cases.
To make these first trials against the Syrian hierarchs possible – that of Koblenz the first – there is a Syrian lawyer, also refugee in Germany, whose name isAnwar Al Bunni and that last year to the Courier he said: It will take years, perhaps never to happen. But I have to fight for those responsible for this massacre to pay for their crimes. Al Bunni knows what it means to be an Assad prisoner. In May 2006, he was jailed for signing a document calling for democratic reform. Once he got out of prison in 2011, the situation worsened further. The Arab spring had begun and the government of Damascus was about to torture and kill thousands of people, especially young people. Now that more than eight years have passed, Al Bunni can’t forget. Many of them have never returned but I still have all their faces before my eyes.
Eyad al Gharib
Al Bunni, with the help of the German NGO European Center for Consitution and Human Right, is fighting to bring those responsible for forced disappearances to justice. The Syrian government recently reported the death of some activists who died in detention in Damascus. And he is expected to do the same for Aleppo shortly. But Al Bunni knows how much this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the regime will never admit its faults. Assad and his men feel safe from all kinds of convictions. Syria has not signed the Treaty of Rome that creates the Hague International Criminal Court, therefore no Syrian can be tried before this court. But if some day Assad’s hierarchy or the president himself leaves Syria, well then things could change, the lawyer explains.
Anwar Al Bunni
International arrest warrants are needed for a chance to bring these people to justice. Not all countries allow warrants to stand out for people who have committed crimes outside their jurisdiction. But there are exceptions, which apply the principle of “Universal jurisdiction” which authorizes a state to prosecute perpetrators of particularly serious crimes regardless of their nationality or the place where the facts were committed. And Germany one of these. In 2003, a special war crimes unit was also set up in Germany with the German federal criminal police, initially charged with investigating suspected genocides in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. As thousands of Syrian refugees applied for asylum in Germany between 2015 and 2017, the unit received more than 2,800 information on the crimes committed by the Assad regime during the revolution. And precisely on the basis of this information last June the German justice issued a mandate for Jamil Hassan, head of the secret services of Damascus, accused of killing hundreds of people between 2011 and 2013.
In those same years – those of the so-called Syrian civil war -, as an in-depth demonstration in 2015 Human Rights Watch report based on images provided by Caesar, the deserter of the regime who provided the world with evidence of torture, thousands of young people have disappeared. These photographs, showing corpses identified by a number, represent a bureaucratic effort by the Syrian government to keep track of the death toll in prisons. Caesar, the invented name, was in charge of documenting the deaths since 2011. When the defector brings out the evidence (over 55,000 photographs and documents), finally what was a suspect becomes a certainty. The images of the bodies show signs of terrible torture. It is a punch in the stomach for public opinion. Those photos, which we show you, go around the world. It is on the basis of this evidence that Al Bunni and his assistants manage to baste the cases.
In addition to the German NGO, many human rights associations have gone to work in recent years to provide evidence of the massacres. These include the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), in Italian the Commission for Justice and International Accountability, who unveiled the massive documentation collected so far on torture and mass executions personally ordered by Assad. An accurate investigation by Ben Taub for the New Yorker, who had access to the Commission’s archives. CIJA director and founder William Wiley, a Canadian who has worked in several high-profile international courts, while investigative team chief lawyer Chris Engels. The Commission has been working for years to collect elements and documents on war crimes and against humanity committed in Syria, using the collaboration of Syrians who risk their lives to bring out thousands of documents of the various security and intelligence services outside and police. The result is a 400-page legal document in which he speaks of “a record of state-sponsored torture that is almost unimaginable in its purpose and cruelty”.
Syrian President Bashar Assad
The files used as evidence, about 600 thousand, bear the imprints of the Central Crisis Management Cell, a command that Assad created in May 2011, shortly after the protests in the country began with the aim of suppressing them. This Command developed a strategy, personally approved and signed by the Syrian president, based on torture and killing of dissidents across the country. Also according to the results of this investigation, daily meetings were held in Damascus under the supervision of Mohammad Said Bekheitan, a prominent member of the Baath Party. The official who held the ranks of this Command and who transmitted its orders, Abdelmajid Barakat, secretly sympathized with the opposition, and began to steal copies of the secret documents. In 2013 he managed to escape to Turkey, bringing with him many of the incriminating documents. Evidence of systematic torture against the opposition has emerged for years in Syria, and hundreds of reports have been written about it by countless organizations, starting with the United Nations Independent Investigation Commission on Syria, which in a recent report concluded that the torture and mass deaths in Syrian regime prisons revealed a state policy of extermination of the civilian population. What makes this evidence unprecedented is the fact that among the stolen documents there are orders signed directly by the highest offices of the Syrian government, including President al-Assad, who examined the proposals of the Central Crisis Management Cell, he signed and returned them for their execution, sometimes making revisions or additions. According to Barakat, no orders, no matter how small, were executed without Assad’s approval.
What will happen then? Will we see Assad and his hierarchies one day? Syria will have justice. While Al Bunni and his friends hope for it, according to former Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, these are important procedures that should be hailed. But they are not enough. In addition, the other side of the conflict should not be forgotten, namely that of the crimes committed by the regime in the use of chemical weapons and the abuses perpetrated by the jihadist opposition.
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