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SYRIA

Germany charges two Syrians with crimes against humanity

Germany charged two alleged former Syrian secret service officers with participating in crimes against humanity, in what rights activists said Tuesday would be the first trial worldwide over state-sponsored torture in Syria.

Germany charges two Syrians with crimes against humanity
Photo: DPA

The two men were arrested in February together with a third suspect in France in a coordinated operation by German and French police, the federal prosecutor's office in the German city of Karlsruhe said.

The suspects, Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, both left Syria in 2012.

Raslan, who allegedly led an investigative unit with its own prison in the Damascus area targeting members of the Syrian opposition, is “suspected of complicity in crimes against humanity” in charges filed on October 22nd, the prosecutors said in a statement.

“In this context he is also accused of murder in 58 cases, rape and aggravated sexual assault” in the jail where more than 4,000 prisoners suffered “brutal and massive torture” from April 2011 to September 2012.

Gharib, a former officer who had manned checkpoints and allegedly hunted protesters, had allegedly aided and abetted two killings and the physical abuse of at least 30 people in the autumn of 2011, prosecutors said.

Mass protests

In the town of Douma at the time, security authorities used force to break up an anti-government rally. Gharib is believed to have helped capture fleeing demonstrators and detained them in the prison headed by Raslan.

The same day that the two suspects were arrested in February, another Syrian was detained in the Paris region for “acts of torture, crimes against humanity and complicity in these crimes”, the Paris prosecutor's office said
at the time.

READ ALSO: German Interior Ministry rules out deportations to Syria

The Syria conflict began in March 2011 with a series of mass protests demanding civil liberties, prompting a harsh crackdown by the regime which quickly began using brutal force against anti-government protesters.

Several other legal cases are now pending in Germany against the Assad regime.

Last year, German prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, a top Syrian official who headed the notorious airforce intelligence directorate and is accused of overseeing the torture and murder of hundreds of detainees.

Although the alleged abuses did not happen in Germany, the case has been filed under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows any country to pursue perpetrators regardless of where the crime was committed.

The Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights has also joined with torture survivors to file criminal complaints against 10 high-ranking Syrian officials, accusing them of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Welcoming Tuesday's charges, the ECCHR said: “The first trial worldwide about state torture in Syria is expected to start in Germany in early 2020 – an important step in the fight against impunity.”

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IMMIGRATION

Germany to allow deportations of ‘suspect’ Syrians

Germany said Friday it would allow deportation of Syrians to their war-ravaged homeland from 2021 if they are deemed a security risk, five years after a massive refugee influx.

Germany to allow deportations of 'suspect' Syrians
A flight deporting refugees leaving from Baden airport on Thursday. Photo: DPA

The EU's biggest economic power and most populous member allowed in hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Syria's devastating civil war in 2015-16 but security officials said it was time to lift blanket protections
against expulsion.

“The general ban on deportations (to Syria) will expire at the end of this year,” Hans-Georg Engelke, state secretary at the interior ministry, told reporters.

“Those who commit crimes or pursue terrorist aims to do serious harm to our state and our population should and will have to leave our country.”

The decision, which drew vehement criticism from human rights groups, was taken at a telephone conference between federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a hardline conservative who had long called for an end to the deportation ban, and his 16 state-level counterparts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans to deport 'dangerous' Syrian criminals

The Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left “grand coalition” government, failed in their bid to win a six-month extension of the protections, in place since 2012.

They argued that the still precarious security and humanitarian situation in Syria made expulsions there indefensible.

'First EU country'

Engelke, standing in for Seehofer who was in quarantine after a coronavirus exposure, told a news conference that an estimated 90 Syrian suspected Islamists were believed to be in Germany.

Calls for a change in stance have been growing since a Syrian man was
arrested in November on suspicion of carrying out a deadly knife attack in the city of Dresden.

Prosecutors said the 20-year-old, accused of killing one tourist and seriously injuring another, had a raft of criminal convictions and a history of involvement with the Islamist scene.

He had been living in Germany under “tolerated” status granted to people whose asylum requests have been rejected, but who cannot be deported.

Boris Pistorius of the SPD, interior minister of Lower Saxony, noted that on a practical level expulsions to Syria would remain next to impossible “because there are no state institutions with which we have diplomatic relations”.

But he sharply criticised the symbolic meaning of Germany becoming what he called the first EU country to lift the deportation ban.

Germany took in more than one million migrants including tens of thousands of Syrians at the height of the refugee influx 2015-16 when several EU member states shut their borders to asylum seekers.

'Disgrace'

The German foreign ministry has described conditions in Syria as “catastrophic” and noted that its nationals continue to be “exposed to dangers when they return” to their home country.

Government forces have regained control of large swathes of territory once held by rebels and Islamist groups, but opponents of the Assad government still face torture and death, according to human rights organisations.

However as Germany heads into a general election year to replace Merkel after 16 years in power, conservative politicians seized on the issue amid concerns among some voters about the security risk posed by refugees.

READ ALSO: German interior minister rules out deportations to Syria

“In such a situation, you can't tell the German population on the issue of whether someone poses a danger… that it is taboo to even think about sending them home,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told the news conference.

German campaigners slammed the decision, calling it opportunistic and driven by political interests.

“The behaviour of the conservative interior ministers is a disgrace for the rule of law and irresponsible in its substance,” Guenter Burkhardt of refugee rights group PRO ASYL said in a statement, calling it a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Syria's war, which broke out after the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2011, has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.

Germany has launched several criminal cases over alleged war crimes in Syria under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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