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Syria torture survivors file landmark case against regime officials in Norway

Several European countries are using universal jurisdiction to bring charges against Syrian officials [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 November, 2019

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Following in the footsteps of Germany, five former Syrian detainees have filed charges in Norway against 17 regime officials they accuse of murder, rape and torture in its notorious prisons.
Syrian refugees in Norway have launched a landmark request for Norwegian police to investigate war crimes committed by the Syrian regime during the more than eight years of civil war.

A Berlin-based rights group announced on Tuesday it had asked Norwegian prosecutors to open a criminal investigation against senior Syrian regime officials over allegations of crimes against humanity, including extrajudicial killings, rape, beatings, floggings and other brutal forms of torture.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights said it had filed the complaint together with four other groups on behalf of five torture survivors.

The plaintiffs filed statements detailing the atrocities they experienced and witnessed in over a dozen prisons, directing charges at requesting arrest warrants against 17 named, senior members of Syria's security apparatus.

“I am still suffering from the effects of the torture,” said one of the group, in comments published in The Guardian. “For the last eight years, I can’t get even two hours of sleep. Even with all the sedatives and painkillers, I still just relive what happened in the prisons, hour by hour.”

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The move follows a historic action by Germany, who earlier this month charged two alleged former Syrian secret service officers with participating in torture, mass rape and crimes against humanity.

The suspects, Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, both came to Germany as refugees in 2012. Both are thought to have had senior roles in detention facilities in Syria, aiding and abetting the murder of scores of prisoners.

The pair are expected to go on trial in 2020.

Similar preliminary proceedings to that in Norway are ongoing in France, Sweden and Austria, as rights groups push European states to push for accountability and end the impunity granted to those complicit in atrocities of Syria’s eight-year-long civil war.

As Germany did, Norway is using a legal doctrine known as universal jurisdiction, which allows prosecutors in national courts to bring cases for war crimes from outside its borders. 

“We are asking Norwegian authorities to do something they have not done before. But we are convinced we are not asking them to do something impossible,” Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal from the Norwegian Helsinki committee, told The Guardian.

As Norway does not hold trials in absentia, activists simply hope for the police to issue arrest warrants, emphasising that the most important outcome is to send a message to the Syrian regime that the culture of impunity is over.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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