An updated version of this article can be accessed here
Caution: This blog post includes descriptions of torture.
After one year of pre-trial detention [GER only], the German Federal Prosecutor General will soon file the public indictment against Alaa M. Once the relevant court confirms the opening of the main trial, the trial will be the second trial of a Syrian government affiliate to be held in Germany. It is another important step to hold perpetrators of all sides of the conflict accountable, particularly those affiliated with the Syrian government, which continues to be the single largest perpetrator of serious crimes in the conflict. Following the trial of Anwar Raslan and Eyad Al-Gharib, the trial of Alaa M. will further shed light on the systematic torture committed by the Syrian intelligence services as well as the role of medical professionals in this system of state-organized torture.
Who is Alaa M.?
In contrast to the first trial – the trial of Anwar Raslan and Eyad Al-Gahrib – the suspect in this trial, Alaa M., did not hold a military rank within the intelligence services, but worked as a doctor in a detention facility of the Military Intelligence Service and the military hospital in Homs. According to the expanded arrest warrant from December 2020 [GER only], he worked there from at least mid-2011 until the end of 2012. During this time, he allegedly:
- committed forced sterilization on a 14-year-old boy at the ER of the military hospital in Homs by burning his genitals.
- severely beat and kicked a man in Branch 261 of the Military Intelligence Service in Homs. He later administered a pill to the man, which led to his death.
- tortured a prisoner at Branch 261 on at least eleven occasions.
- insulted a detainee after he was transferred to the military hospital due to bad hygienic conditions at the detention facility. Alaa M. further beat the person with a baton, stepped on his septic wound, burnt the wound, kicked the person in the mouth, thereby damaging three teeth, beating the person again, and eventually hitting his head causing the person to fall unconscious.
- arbitrarily hit detainees in a collective cell at the military hospital.
- injected a deadly substance into a detainee who died within minutes in the military hospital in Homs.
The arrest warrant further states that Alaa M. left Syria in mid-2015. He later arrived in Germany, where he practiced as a doctor. He was arrested at his place of residence in Germany in June 2020 and held in pre-trial detention ever since.
Significance of the trial
The trial of Alaa M. is an important step toward justice and accountability for several reasons. First, it indicates that Germany is continuing to hold perpetrators from all sides of the conflict accountable. This sends an encouraging sign to other states that are currently investigating crimes committed by the Syrian government.
Second, the trial will examine in detail the role of certain medical professionals in directly participating and fostering the state-organized torture system in Syria. There were glimpses of the role of doctors and healthcare facilities during the Koblenz Trial. There the court has sought to assess the lack of medical care as part of the general detention conditions at Branch 251. In addition, the forensic analysis of the Caesar Files showed obvious signs of medical treatment and signs of torture on a single corpse. The forensic expert further confirmed that certain medical practices such as electric patches could also be used to torture a person. The trial of Alaa M. and in particular the testimonies of survivors and witnesses may elucidate how medical care was subverted by the Military Intelligence Service in Homs and used to torture victims.
Third, the trial of Alaa M. will be a test for German authorities on whether they already adapted to some suggestions arising from the Koblenz Trial. It will be particularly interesting to see how the authorities will communicate with communities interested in the trial, including those who are Arabic speaking.
How will SJAC monitor the trial?
Following the successful cooperation in monitoring the Koblenz Trial, SJAC and the International Research and Documentation Centre for War Crimes Trials (ICWC), have partnered again to monitor the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt. Both groups are seeking to engage and inform the general public, including Syrians, Germans, as well as the international community, about the progress, prospects, and limitations of universal jurisdiction trials for atrocity crimes committed in Syria. SJAC will have trained trial monitors attending and monitoring the trial. Given the highly specialized nature of the trial and German criminal procedure, the ICWC will oversee the training of the trial monitor. The ICWC will also provide expert consultation on German legal standards and procedures.
To ensure that essential factual and procedural developments are shared, SJAC will issue public Arabic and English language reports on a weekly basis, which will be shared on SJAC’s website. In addition, SJAC will host a weekly podcast on Facebook live to cover the developments in court in Arabic language. Finally, SJAC will continue to conduct outreach to Syrian and international journalists to amplify messages regarding universal jurisdiction cases, and the trial of Alaa M. in particular.
As with the Koblenz Trial, SJAC in cooperation with the ICWC will further provide impartial and independent background information and critical examinations of the trial proceedings.