This year, the world witnessed the conclusion of the first trial of former Syrian government officials in Koblenz, Germany. Based upon its detailed trial monitoring – as well as the results of a new public survey on victims’ participation in the trial – SJAC has assessed the trial’s contribution to justice for Syrians and offers recommendations to improve universal jurisdiction trials, including a proposal to create a specialized chamber within the German judiciary.
While the first verdict in this case was already handed down on February 24, 2021, it took almost another year to complete the trial with the guilty verdict against the higher-ranking of the two defendants, Syrian intelligence Colonel Anwar Raslan. In light of the historic dimension of the Koblenz Trial, one must, however, not overlook persisting shortcomings in domestic criminal procedure and practice of international criminal law in delivering transparent and timely justice.
One year into the Koblenz Trial, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) conducted a first analysis of the proceedings, based on its detailed trial monitoring. Following the conclusion of the Koblenz Trial earlier this year, the SJAC’s report “Between Hope and Despair: A Way forward after the Koblenz Trial” provides an in-depth victim-centered analysis of the proceedings, based on SJAC’s trial monitoring and survey on the public perception of the trial. The report highlights the need for transparent court proceedings by providing public access to Arabic language interpretation and multilingual outreach. Additionally, it highlights the struggles of survivors of atrocity crimes in relation to insufficient witness protection and psychosocial support during in-court testimonies and during the investigation phase. Although some improvement in these areas was observed throughout the trial proceedings, structural hurdles and lack of resources for prosecution offices and the judiciary continue to delay transparent justice for Syrians and hinder the effective contribution of universal jurisdiction proceeding to transitional justice for Syria. The report concludes with concrete, actionable recommendations for policy and lawmakers as well as the judiciary in Germany and beyond.
The Report is launched in the midst of a new trial of a former government affiliate and doctor at Syrian military hospitals. The trial of Alaa M. started in Frankfurt, Germany, only one week after the final verdict in the Koblenz trial. It is off to a slow start as numerous trial days have already been cancelled due to illness. Nonetheless, the trial sends a strong sign from German prosecutors and investigators that providing justice for Syrians and fighting against impunity for international crimes remain priorities.
Nonetheless, the judges’ competing obligations following from several complex trials falling within the jurisdiction of the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt, and the need to simultaneously conduct all of them in a timely manner, unveils the need for a centralized domestic court dedicated to terrorism and international crimes trials. Such a centralized chambers could overcome persistent underfunding and staff shortage within the German judiciary in general, and particularly in relation to the special needs of international trials. Investigations into international crimes committed abroad, be they in Syria or Ukraine, are only meaningful when trials are conducted in a timely and transparent manner. This is the case for all universal jurisdiction proceedings, in Germany and elsewhere.
You can read more about this and other recommendations and insights in SJAC’s newest report “Between Hope and Despair: A Way forward after the Koblenz Trial,” available to view and download here.