Ameenah Sawwan / February 24, 2021

Former Assad regime officer found guilty in Koblenz trial

Photo: “First step, done. But my father and 130,000 are still detained.” Syrian activist Sedra Alshehabi protests outside the court

I am writing to you from the German town of Koblenz, where earlier today a former member of the Assad regime was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Syria. I had mixed feelings as I heard Eyad al-Gharib’s four-and-a-half year sentence, but I hope this Koblenz trial is the first step in a process of justice and accountability that will one day lead all the way to Bashar al-Assad himself.

This verdict is not only about al-Gharib as an individual, who was a relatively low-level official, or about the number of years he has been sentenced to. It is about the injustices that so many Syrian families have suffered, including my own. This trial acknowledges in detail the crimes of forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and torture committed inside the Syrian regime’s detention centres over the past ten years and beyond.

Al-Gharib was tried under the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’, where individuals can be prosecuted for serious crimes against international law. Lawyers and Syrian human rights defenders have resorted to this route because a comprehensive international justice process is being blocked at the UN Security Council by Russia and China.

Today’s trial sets a precedent for other cases against the Syrian regime. In fact there are already similar cases in Norway, Sweden, and France being prepared, and another higher ranking official is still on trial here in Koblenz. On a political level it sends a clear message to European countries: that it’s not ok to build political relationships with Assad as crimes against humanity are committed under his watch.

Today’s historic verdict was made possible thanks to the hard work of Syrian lawyers and human rights defenders, as well as the bravery of Syrian victims who were witnesses and plaintiffs in the trial. Those who have told their stories, demanded justice and answers, and will continue to do so until justice is served for all of Syria’s detainees.

More than 100,000 Syrians are still detained or disappeared and the crimes documented in detail in this trial are ongoing to this day. One day, I hope we will witness the referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court. Until then, we must continue to fight for freedom and justice for Syria, and for Syria’s detainees, wherever we can.

Show your solidarity with Syrian activists and share this Facebook post to mark this historic verdict