Former Syrian colonel found guilty of crimes against humanity

Jing Chen, World News Editor

Anwar Raslan—a former Syrian colonel—was found accountable for 27 conducts of murder, rape, and torture last Thursday by a German court. According to German prosecutors, Raslan is responsible for the inhuman treatment of at least 4,000 people in the early days of the decade-long Syrian civil war, where Raslan confined them in the Al-Khatib prison in the 2010s. According to BBC News, the jail was notorious for being a “Hell on Earth.” 

Raslan was serving as part of Syria’s security services and achieved the rank of colonel. He was the head of interrogations at a security office in Syria’s capital of Damascus. Using his power, Raslan directed interrogations “including ‘electric shocks,’ beatings with fists, wires, and whips.” New York Times also interviewed surviving detainees of the prison and several recalled drinking from toilets and being fed potatoes that tasted like metal. 

The war in Syria began in a peaceful uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2010 when citizens resented low unemployment and political corruption. The Syrian regime used brutal forces to suppress the uprisings, and nearby nations as well as global superpowers including the United States joined the armed conflict. BBC News estimates that the rapid escalation of the war has caused the death and displacement of more than 500,000 people up to this day.

Raslan left the chaotic civil war in Syria in 2012, entered Germany on a visa in 2014, and successfully sought asylum in 2019. He denied all charges against him, claiming “I never had anything to do with torture” and insisting that his power was limited to oversee detainees. He was eventually arrested in the same year, according to BBC News. 

The remarkable sentence of Anwar Raslan last Thursday marked a historical first. Raslan is so far the highest-ranking Syrian officer convicted of a crime against humanity. He received universal jurisdiction which would allow courts to prosecute him regardless of his current residence. Several human rights group leaders celebrate the verdict, including Wolfgang Kaleck, a general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional Human Rights. He says, “despite all the shortcomings of international criminal justice, Anwar Raslan’s conviction shows what the principle of universal jurisdiction can achieve and that such trials are in fact feasible in Germany and Europe.” 

Surviving detainees also burst into tears of joy, such as Mahran Aoiun. He said to the New York Times, “This guy who once considered himself the tyrant, the powerful head of the station, I see him standing in court, weak and humiliated. And the people he tortured are stronger.”

Amongst the joy of sentencing Raslan, many acknowledge that not enough is done. Rowaida Kanaan—also a survivor detained in Al-Khatib during the early days of the war—raises the question “has justice been accomplished? No, as long as we still have prisoners in detention.” Kanaan presents the reality that many prisoners are still under detention and facing torture. A musician survivor who was jailed four times by Raslan hopes that “those who are torturing prisoners will think twice after the trial,” but he also anticipates the struggle in the “long path toward justice.”