Judgment of the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz: Torturers, be afraid! – Opinion

Representatives of the German state sat in court on Thursday over a representative of the Syrian state. On the one hand: German judges. On the other hand: a Syrian secret service colonel retired. The Germans gave a lecture to the Syrian. You held up German paragraphs to him. They explained to him what he had to do and what not to do in his own country. You have set yourself up to interfere in the business of the sovereign Syrian Arab Republic, and all you can say about it is: lucky!

Yes, these are judges from another country. They are judges of a different political system and yes: also of a different cultural area. But none of it matters, none of it should play a role when it comes to barbarism of the kind that was perpetrated day in and day out in the torture cellars of the Assad regime and perpetrated to keep a population in fear. Torture methods such as the “German chair” with a movable backrest that is bent back until the spine of many a victim breaks: No politics excuses such a thing. No civil war justifies such a thing.

It is the world’s first verdict against a henchman of the Assad regime

There is no doubt under international law: It does not matter whether the men who are currently in power in the state of Syria find such methods legitimate. It doesn’t matter whether they ever recognized the prohibition on torture or submitted to it. A state is free to decide many things. Not that one. There are a few modest minimum requirements for humanity that are so clear that they must apply universally. This is the so-called world law principle – an idea, admittedly, still young in legal history. In Germany, the principle was only poured into the paragraphs of the International Criminal Code in 2002. In other countries the paragraphs have different names.

Samaa Mahmoud, Mariam Alhallak and Yasmen Almashan (from left) remember their relatives who were killed in Syrian custody in front of the court in Koblenz.

(Photo: Martin Meissner / AP)

On this basis, the judges of the Koblenz Higher Regional Court have now decided to say what they have only had the legal authority to say for a few years: retired secret service colonel Anwar R., who acted in Syria 4,000 kilometers away, is a criminal. It is the world’s first verdict against a henchman of the Assad regime. Germany has led the way. The neighboring countries of Syria could have carried out such investigations – just as voluntarily. But states like Lebanon or Turkey didn’t want to. Even the United Nations, through whose courts the veto power Russia has a say, did not want to.

Torture is also used in Egypt. But Germany prefers to look the other way

The use of the German judiciary is by no means free from political self-interests. You can see that in which countries the investigators are sparing. The torture cellars of the Egyptian dictator al-Sisi, for example, about which human rights organizations have a lot to report, are not an issue for them. They also never looked closely at the torture in American prison camps in the Middle East or in Guantanamo. Shortly before US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted to travel to Germany in 2007, the federal prosecutor assured him: Don’t worry, we are not investigating.

And yet it is correct that the German judiciary is now advancing so strongly against Syria. The more, the better: The more jurisdictions in the world begin to be interested, albeit selectively, in individual crimes against humanity, the riskier it becomes for the torturers to move freely around the globe.

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