Berlin/Koblenz, 1 July 2021 – Despite the historic significance of the world’s first trial on state-organized torture in Syria, there is no official documentation of the proceedings at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz. To change this, several German, Syrian, and international academic and research institutions filed a motion to the court today. They demand that the final stage of the proceedings be recorded—including the closing statements and the announcement of the verdict—to preserve the trial for future generations.
“The Auschwitz trials, the Stammheim trial, and numerous international criminal proceedings demonstrate that the documentation of such historic trials, also through original recordings, are a highly valuable contribution to addressing the past, to the education of future generations, and not the least for research purposes. The recordings of the Syria trial could play an equally important role” said Florian Jeßberger, professor for criminal law and modern legal history at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and one of the petitioners.
In Germany, legal proceedings are not typically recorded or filmed, nor are they documented through verbatim records. However, German courts can order recordings of trials of outstanding significance for scientific and historical purposes. The recordings are then archived and can be accessed upon request. The Koblenz Court has already dismissed motions for audio recordings twice on grounds of witness protection and the impact on witness testimonials—a claim that lawyers and civil society have criticized as insubstantial.
“The Koblenz trial is an important step towards justice and accountability for Syrians. Having observed the entire trial proceedings, we can see first-hand the importance of such trials exposing the role in state-organized torture through the Syrian intelligence services. It would be a real loss to not have these proceedings recorded for future understanding.” says Mohammad Al Abdallah, Executive Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre and one of the petitioners.
Because there is no official documentation, civil society organizations such as the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre and ECCHR are monitoring the trial and providing reports on every single trial day. However, only audio recordings allow for exhaustive and objective documentation needed to fully understand the proceedings and significance of the trial.
Mansour Omari, a Syrian journalist, adds that “especially for us Syrians, it is essential to preserve the trial for future generations. The proceedings in Germany can form the basis for addressing the crimes committed in Syria, for the healing processes of the next generations and to establish a collective memory.”
The importance of documenting legal proceedings for transitional justice processes has been acknowledged by all international courts and tribunals that record their proceedings. In 2017, UNESCO even declared the records of the Auschwitz trials a Memory of the World document.
For SJAC’s detailed reports of the Koblenz Trial, visit SJAC’s Trial Monitoring Website.