(Beirut) – Lebanese authorities should conduct an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into the deaths of Syrians in military custody and allegations of torture and ill-treatment in detention, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 4, 2017, the Lebanese military issued a statement saying four Syrians died in its custody following mass raids in Arsal, a restricted access area in northeast Lebanon where many Syrian refugees live. On July 14, Human Rights Watch received credible reports that a fifth Syrian detainee had also died in custody.

A Lebanese soldier at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal

© 2016 Reuters

A doctor with expertise in documenting torture reviewed photos of three of the men provided by their family lawyers to Human Rights Watch, which showed widespread bruising and cuts. He said the injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture” and that “any statement that the deaths of these individuals were due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.” Human Rights Watch also spoke with five former detainees, who said that army personnel beat and ill-treated them and other detainees. A military officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was investigating the deaths and would publish its findings.

“While the Lebanese army’s promise to investigate these shocking deaths is a positive step, the promise will be meaningless without transparent and independent accountability for anyone found guilty of wrongdoing,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who supports the Lebanese army should support efforts to tackle such serious allegations of military abuse.”

Photos of the bodies of three Syrians who died in Lebanese military custody, provided to Human Rights Watch by their families' lawyers. © 2017 Private

On June 30, the Lebanese army announced it had raided two unofficial refugee camps in Arsal that day, and was met with suicide bombers, a bomb, and a grenade, resulting in the injury of seven soldiers. On July 15, the army released a statement saying that it detained 356 people following these raids. It referred 56 for prosecution and 257 to the General Security agency for lack of residency. A humanitarian organization official told Human Rights Watch that children were among those detained.

The Lebanese army regularly conducts raids on unofficial refugee camps in Lebanon, but has not responded to questions from Human Rights Watch about the purpose of these raids. The raids came amid calls from Lebanese politicians for the return of refugees to Syria and reports of an impending military operation against armed groups on the Syrian border near Arsal.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm reports that Syrians died during the raids themselves, but a source in Arsal said the municipality received nine bodies, not including the five men who were reported to have died in custody.

The army’s July 4 statement said that four detainees who “suffered from chronic health issues that were aggravated due to the climate condition” died before being interrogated. It identified them as Mustafa Abd el Karim Absse, 57; Khaled Hussein el-Mleis, 43; Anas Hussein el-Husseiki, 32; and Othman Merhi el-Mleis. The army did not specify where it had detained them.

Human Rights Watch spoke with a family member and a close acquaintance of two of the deceased, who said that they had no known serious health conditions. Both said that the army gave no reason for the arrests and did not notify the families of the deaths.

On July 14, Human Rights Watch received reports that a fifth Syrian detainee, Toufic al Ghawi, 23, died in detention after the army transferred him to the Elias Hrawi government hospital. A witness in Arsal who saw the body before burial said, “Toufic didn’t look human anymore. His flesh was torn apart.” Human Rights Watch has not received photographs of the body.

Additional evidence supports the allegations of abuse and torture during the arrests in Arsal and at military detention facilities. A witness in Arsal told Human Rights Watch that he had seen 34 former detainees with marks on their hands, legs, and backs, and in one case, on a former detainee’s head.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees who said they were mistreated, physically abused, and denied food and water, along with scores of other detainees during four to five days of detention without charge before being released.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the military on July 10 to verify the number of those arrested, injured, or killed during the army raids; those still in custody; and the conditions of their detention, but has not received a response. Human Rights Watch also requested permission to enter Arsal to interview witnesses, but has not received permission. An army officer told Human Rights Watch that the army was not allowing “media organizations” to enter Arsal. Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the military and military prosecutor.

Under international law, Lebanon has an obligation to investigate deaths in custody and hold those responsible to account. Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations have long documented reports of torture and ill-treatment by security services including the army. Impunity for violence is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into deaths, torture, or ill-treatment, they have often not been concluded or made public. Human Rights Watch is not aware of cases where military personnel have been held to account.

“The Lebanese public and the Syrian families of those who died in detention deserve a clear accounting of what happened to them and punishment for those found responsible,” Whitson said. “Unfortunately, Lebanese authorities have a history of opening investigations in response to public pressure, but failing to conclude them or publish the results.”

Photographic Evidence of Torture
Human Rights Watch received 28 photographs of three of the deceased men, taken at the Elias Hrawi government hospital in Zahle, from the law firm representing the families of the deceased. The lawyers said they were not able to locate Othman el-Mleis’s body. Dr. Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, who has expertise in documenting torture, reviewed the photographs and shared his report:

The photos reveal widespread physical trauma of the upper and lower extremities. The lack of defensive wounds suggests that these injuries were inflicted while the victims were restrained or otherwise incapacitated and the distribution of these injuries are consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture. Several of the photos are consistent with lacerations caused from being suspended by the wrists. It would be reasonable to conclude that the deaths of these men is the result of in-custody violence, although the precise cause of death cannot be predicted based on the information and photographs submitted. Any statement that the deaths of these individuals was due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.

Corroborating Evidence of Torture and Mistreatment of Arsal Detainees
Human Rights Watch spoke with five former detainees from Arsal who said they were detained without charge for four to five days. They said soldiers handcuffed them, hooded them with their shirts, put them on the ground in the sun, and stomped or hit anyone raising their head. “I moved my head up slightly, and immediately a soldier hit me with his boot,” one man said.

The men said soldiers then loaded them onto trucks “one over the other, as if they’re shipping potato bags,” and took them to multiple detention sites including Rayak Air Base in the Bekaa Valley and the military intelligence and military police bases in Ablah. At Rayak Air Base, they said, army personnel held more than 100 of them in one room overnight, denied them food and water, and did not allow them to use the bathroom. “They would beat whoever asked to go to the bathroom,” said a former detainee in his 60s.

They said that army personnel at Rayak beat, insulted, and threatened them and others. “They beat people, some with batons, others with the butt of a gun,” one said. “I saw one soldier on the outside poking one of the detainees from the window with a bent skewer. He beat him, then he started cutting his face…until blood came out.”

The men interviewed said they were finally transferred to General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency, who did not mistreat them and released them. The former detainees said that the army never told them why they had been detained.

One former detainee, interviewed on July 11, said: “I had to leave my son behind [in detention]. To this day, I don’t know what has happened to him.” Lebanese law limits pre-charge detention to 96 hours.

Medical Reports
Human Rights Watch also reviewed medical reports for three of the deceased, dated July 1 and 2, and prepared by a forensic doctor at the request of the general prosecutor, concluding that they had suffered heart attacks and a stroke, and that the bodies did not show marks of violence.

A lawyer representing the families said she had received permission from a Judge of Urgent Affairs for a forensic doctor to examine the bodies, conduct an autopsy, and take medical samples to ascertain the cause of death. After she took the medical samples to the Hotel Dieu hospital in Beirut for analysis, the lawyer said, Military Intelligence personnel there demanded she turn them over, by order of the Military Information Directorate. She handed them over after the general prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, instructed her to do so. Following the military’s intervention, she said that the X-ray, CT scan, and autopsy results have not been released to her or made public.

The investigation into the men’s deaths is now before the military court, the family’s lawyer said. Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns about the independence, impartiality, and competence of the Military Tribunal, where the majority of judges are military officers who are not required to have law degrees, and where trials take place behind closed doors.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Erbil) – Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today.

Sunni tribal groups (known as the Hashad al-Asha'ri), within the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), which are under the control of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi soldiers forced the families out of their homes following the passage of a decree issued by local authorities. The families, all from Salah al-Din governorate, are being held against their will in a camp functioning as an open-air prison near Tikrit. The PMF also destroyed some of the families’ homes.

“While politicians in Baghdad are discussing reconciliation efforts in Iraq, the state’s own forces are undermining those efforts by destroying homes and forcing families into a detention camp,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These families, accused of wrongdoing by association, are in many cases themselves victims of ISIS abuses and should be protected by government forces, not targeted for retribution.”

Iraqi forces have forcibly displaced at least 125 families said to have familial ties to affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). 

In August 2016, the Salah al-Din governorate council passed a decree stating that anyone proven to have been complicit or affiliated with ISIS has no right to return to the governorate. The decree also orders the expulsion of immediate relatives of ISIS-members from Salah al-Din for 10 years to life, and says that they are only allowed to return if they are deemed “safe.” The decree establishes a committee to seize ISIS-affiliates’ property and suspend their, and their families,’ provision cards. Families that kill their ISIS-affiliated relatives, or hand them over to the Iraqi authorities, are exempted.

One woman from al-Shakrah village, three kilometers south of al-Shirqat, said that PMF fighters forced her and her relatives from their home on January 7, 2017, because her husband’s brother had joined ISIS. She said that the fighters “forced our whole family of 14 people out and onto the truck. They didn’t let us grab even a change of clothing.”

Two women from the village of al-Aithah said that local PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes with explosives after they retook the area on September 21, targeting not only some of the families they thought to be affiliated with ISIS, but also some families that had fled because of the fighting. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that between September 23 and October 23, 220 homes in the village were destroyed by explosives and fire.

Before and after satellite imagesBefore and after satellite images

Satellite imagery shows the village of al-Aithah, outside Tikrit, Iraq, before and after the destruction caused by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). 

Before: © 2017 DigitalGlobe After: © 2017 DigitalGlobe

Under the laws of war, parties to a conflict may only attack military objectives. The intentional or wanton destruction of civilian property is unlawful unless the property is being used for a military purpose. Destroying property merely to punish the population is always prohibited.

Iraqi federal authorities should investigate any intentional destruction or looting of civilian property, punish those responsible – including those in command control at the time of such acts who failed to prevent the crimes – if abuses are found, and compensate victims, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch visited the Shahama camp for displaced people, 13 kilometres north of Tikrit, on February 3, to interview families affected by the decree. Hussein Ahmed Khalaf, the camp manager, said that 362 families were there, of whom 237 had fled Hawija, a city 50 kilometers west of Kirkuk that is still under ISIS control. Those families had arrived when the camp opened at the beginning of January.

He said that over the next month, 125 families from the al-Shirqat area were brought to the camp. Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 people forcibly displaced with their families to the camp. They all said that PMF fighters, in the presence of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) with army vehicles, had forced them out of their homes. They said that they were prohibited from leaving the camp and from having mobile phones.

In a Salah al-Din news broadcast in January, Brigadier General Juma Enad Sadoon, the Salah al-Din operational commander for the ISF, said that he ordered the forced displacements of immediate relatives of ISIS members following the passage of the decree by the Salah al-Din governorate council. He said “ISIS families” were identified by other residents and through intelligence gathered by the security forces. He said he gave the order because of concerns about family members communicating with their ISIS relatives fighting in Mosul and other fronts and because of complaints from the relatives of victims of ISIS abuses. He said he would not stop displacing these families.

But most families who spoke to Human Rights Watch either denied they had a relative in ISIS or said that if they did, this family member was as distant as a cousin or brother-in-law.

Residents of Shahama camp speak with relatives through the camp fence. 

 

 

© 2017 Sami Hilali

On January 26, two videos were posted on a Facebook page covering news from Salah al-Din showing local PMF forces in al-Shirqat displacing families of ISIS suspects using army vehicles.

Both videos feature a female commander known as Um Hanadi of the local PMF of al-Shirqat known as the Group of Um Hanadi for Special Tasks (Tashkeel Um Hanadi La Mohmat al-Khasah). In one video, she and a group of armed forces are loading families they refer to as “ISIS families” onto at least two Iraqi army trucks with military license plates. The video shows at least two Iraqi military commanders, recognizable because of their red berets. One fighter and the cameraman identify themselves as members of the Iraqi military’s Division 17, Brigade 60. In the other video, Um Hanadi says to the camera, “It is an honor for me to clean and cleanse al-Shirqat with these elite forces.”

A New York Times article from January 29 about the camp quotes Salah al-Din’s deputy governor, Amar Hekmat, as saying that the aim behind the forcible displacement is, “to defy the terrorists and send a stern message to the families.” Salah al-Din’s First Deputy Governor Khazhal Hamad is quoted in the same article saying that displacing the families was a way of protecting them from retaliatory attacks by neighbors who lost family members to ISIS. “There are hostile feelings towards these people, and these feelings can affect the civil peace we are trying to achieve,” he said.

A February 28 response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ human rights office to Human Rights Watch’s findings stated that the displacement was carried out by the Salah al-Din operational command in order to protect the families from revenge attacks; for security reasons linked to continued suicide attacks; and because some of these families may be sharing information about ISF positions with ISIS. It stated that the operational command was mandated with holding and protecting the families in the camp. Representatives of the PMF did not respond to questions sent by Human Rights Watch.

The article goes on to say that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sent a letter in late January to the local governor criticizing the displacement and ordered governorate and federal government officials to resolve the issue. There was no indication he had called for the punishment of armed forces under his command that participated in it. Iraqi federal authorities including al-Abadi should continue to condemn the forcible displacement of these families and censure any state forces that participate in the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

Two of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that Salah al-Din’s Governor Ahmad Abdullah al-Jabouri came to the camp in late January and told them that he was working on a solution to secure their release, but that nothing had happened since.

It is a basic international standard that punishment for crimes should only be imposed on people responsible for the crimes, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishments on families, villages, or entire communities is strictly forbidden and can itself be a crime, especially if it results in forced displacement.

Under the laws of war, forced displacement of civilians is strictly prohibited except in the limited cases when displacement is necessary to protect civilians or for imperative military necessity, and then only for as long as it is needed. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is a war crime to order such unlawful displacements of civilians during a conflict. Widespread or systematic unlawful forced displacement imposed as a policy of the state or organized group can amount to a crime against humanity.

Local governorate councils should reverse any decrees targeting the families of alleged ISIS affiliates in violation of international standards. Iraq’s parliament should issue a decree calling on the local governorate councils to rescind the decrees and on armed forces to cease the forced displacements, reiterating the unlawfulness of these displacements and stipulating that any armed forces who participate in the displacements should be censured.

“There is growing concern among parliamentarians and ministers about the forcible displacement of so-called ISIS families and what this will mean for reconciliation efforts in areas recently taken back from ISIS,” Fakih said. “That concern needs to translate into action before these destructive policies are mimicked across the country.”

Local Justifications for Displacement
Local leaders from Salah al-Din told Human Rights Watch that the forcible displacement of families of alleged ISIS affiliates was in line with jalwa, an Arabic term for eviction and a principle that entails the forced relocation of a clan to avoid friction if one of its members murders someone from another clan living in the same area.

Other local officials are taking similar measures to expel so-called “ISIS families.” In July, the Babylon governorate council passed a decree calling on authorities to demolish the homes of anyone proven to have participated in terrorist activities, deport their families from the governorate, and to authorize legal procedures against the families proven to have “concealed” their ISIS-affiliated relatives. Families from Anbar face similar difficulties. In July, local leaders issued a covenant saying that people who “promoted” ISIS are not allowed to return until their charges are reviewed. Individuals who did not renounce relatives who supported ISIS are only allowed to return home “when this situation stabilizes,” they said.

Identified with ISIS
Four of the 14 people Human Rights Watch interviewed were from al-Shakrah village and were brought to the Shahama camp on January 7 and January 26. Three were from al-Aithah village, 11 kilometers north of al-Shirqat, and were brought to the camp in early January. The rest were from three neighborhoods of the town of al-Shirqat and were brought to the camp on January 26, 28, and 29. Some were brought alone, while others said they were loaded into approximately 30 vehicles, some with up to 11 other families. Several said they had only the most tangential connections, or no connections at all, to people who had joined ISIS.

One couple said that their cousin, a member of Um Hanadi’s PMF group with whom they had a running land dispute for years, was the one that brought forces to their home and made them leave. They said they had no links to ISIS. Another woman said she was a nurse, and had continued her work at the local hospital under ISIS because she was the only female nurse and felt it was her duty to provide health care for women. Fighters brought her and her family to the camp, saying it was because she had been affiliated with ISIS, she said.

One widowed woman said that ISIS fighters forced her to marry off her 14-year-old daughter to one of their fighters after they took her village in 2014. According to the mother, the daughter married the fighter, who was subsequently killed, and gave birth weeks before she and the rest of her family were forcibly displaced. The woman said PMF and Iraqi soldiers displaced her and her family, including her daughter and grandchild, to the camp because of the forced marriage.

“They [the PMF] told me: ‘You gave your daughter to ISIS,’” she said. “But they do not understand our situation with ISIS and the pressure they put on us. We couldn’t say anything to them…I had no choice. I couldn’t say anything…ISIS became the government ruling over everyone. They’ve gone to war with every country. What could I do as a woman to oppose them?”

“As they drove us from al-Shirqat they were celebrating, it was like a victory for them,” said a man from the Jamia neighborhood. He said PMF and ISF jointly rounded up 28 people from his area and brought them to the camp on a convoy of dozens of cars, blaring celebratory music from their loudspeakers:

We saw all these cars and trucks suddenly pull up in our village, and I saw several Hashad fighters [PMF] knock on the door of my neighbors. Their son had been with ISIS. They forced them out immediately and into one of the trucks. Then came the knock at our door, and my mother-in-law opened and told the fighters that her son’s family, my husband’s brother, who had joined ISIS, lived down the road. They said to her, “But you are also related to him.”

Shahama Camp Conditions
Human Rights Watch observed that the families from Hawija and al-Shirqat in the Shahama camp are housed in tents in separate areas of the camp. The camp manager said that this was because of concerns over possible tensions between people who left Hawija voluntarily and those forcibly displaced from al-Shirqat over suspected family ties to ISIS suspects.

Shahama camp residents are not allowed to leave or to have mobile phones, and visitors are restricted. Residents at the camp from the initial wave of families from Hawija told Human Rights Watch that until the al-Shirqat families arrived they had been allowed to have phones, and leave the camp at will.

The camp receives assistance and support from four international aid organizations, but two aid workers said that most aid groups would not support a camp that is functioning as a holding site for forcibly displaced people, rather than a camp to which displaced people have gone voluntarily. Having visited about a dozen camps in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Human Rights Watch researchers observed significantly worse conditions in the Shahama camp than in the other camps it had visited. According to a senior aid worker and the camp manager, the camp has no clinic, no school, and lacks adequate sanitation services and food, water, and heating oil.

Destruction and Looting
A local sheikh from the village of al-Aithah interviewed in the Shahama camp said the PMF arrived three days after the Iraqi military retook the village from ISIS on September 19. Two women from the village said that the PMF forces destroyed hundreds of homes. One said her home was included and the other that she witnessed the destruction:

I saw them destroying the houses. They would destroy around 15 homes a day. For about 15 days the destruction didn’t stop in the village. My house was not destroyed when the army came, but…lots of neighbors’ homes were destroyed by the PMF. It was the local PMF destroying the homes. I saw them and know them personally as being from the local PMF.

She said the PMF targeted the homes not only of some families thought to have links to ISIS, but also some of those who had simply fled the area out of fear.

Local residents said that as far as they were aware, there were no airstrikes on the village after it was retaken, so the destruction could not have been a result of aerial attacks, and there was seemingly no military necessity for the destruction, meaning it most likely constituted a war crime. “We want the Iraqi government to show mercy on these women and children,” one of the women said. “Don’t act like ISIS, by destroying homes and displacing families.”

Several members of the displaced families also said PMF members looted their property. One woman from Tal al-Jumaila neighborhood in al-Shirqat said that the morning before she was displaced, PMF confiscated her cow without giving any reason. A man from Tal al-Jumaila neighborhood and another from al-Shakrah village both said fighters took their cars. The rest of the interviewees said that because they did not have access to their phones, they did not know what had happened to their property since they left.

Detention
Seven people interviewed said that ISF had arrested one or more of their family members, in one case a 15-year-old boy, on suspicion of ISIS affiliation either at their homes or at a checkpoint in the area, some as early as August. Six had not heard from their relatives since and all of them said that because of the ban on phones, they were unable to make any calls to see if they were still in detention or had access to a lawyer.

One man from al-Shakrah said he had been detained by ISF at a checkpoint near Tikrit because his brother had been an ISIS member, and was beaten for a day with electric cables while guards asked him how he could have shared a home with an ISIS fighter. That night, he said, they transferred him to the Salah al-Din operations room, and then to a prison in Tikrit. A few weeks later he was taken before a judge and ordered released, after which he returned to al-Shakrah, he said. On January 7, he and his family were forced to relocate to the camp.

Another al-Shakrah villager said that on September 24, 2016, more than 15 Iraqi soldiers and PMF members who were in the village told all the men and boys ages 15 and over to gather at the local school to be screened:

I gathered there with my 15-year-old son, as we were told. A soldier called out three names of men from the village and detained them. Then about 20 fighters wearing PMF patches brought 10 more men with masked faces to us, and started pointing at people at random, while the ISF stood by and watched. The PMF took away the 14 men and one boy, my own son, whom they pointed at, loading them onto military trucks. One PMF fighter was filming the group of detainees on his phone as they waited to load the trucks, and ordered them to bark like dogs.

They brought his son back after 28 days. The family confirmed with Iraqi army officers that his son was not on a wanted list, but five days later, PMF came to the home with a masked man who said the boy was affiliated with ISIS and detained him again, the father said. The father said he has heard nothing from him since and that on January 7, local PMF members in the village came to their home and said they were an “ISIS family” and had to get onto the PMF trucks and go to the camp.

Iraqi federal authorities should make efforts to inform family members about the location of all detainees. Iraqi federal authorities should make public the number of fighters and civilians detained, including at checkpoints, screening sites, and camps during the conflict with ISIS, and the legal basis for their detention, including the charges against them. They should ensure prompt independent judicial review of detention and allow detainees access to lawyers and medical care and to communicate with their families, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

After 25 years of vicious conflict that has cost countless lives and displaced millions of people, peace has finally broken out in south-central Somalia — at least that's what Kenya says. And the UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has joined Kenya to tell the world it should now focus on helping as many refugees as possible to return home.

But I recently spoke with some of the estimated 320,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, the world's largest refugee camp. And it's clear that peace is the last thing some of those signing up for UNHCR's $400 repatriation cash handout are discovering.

A newly arrived Somali refugee is forced out of the queue outside a reception centre in the Ifo 2 refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border, in Garissa County, Kenya, July 28, 2011

© 2011 Reuters

A number of refugees told me they had returned destitute to destroyed Somali villages without health care provision and schools, or faced danger as armed groups continue to clash in and around their villages, including towns. After doing their best to survive, they fled back to Kenya, once again as refugees.

One of them is "Amina," a 38-year-old single mother. After a decade in Dadaab, she decided to try her luck and returned in January 2015 with her five children to her village, Bula Gudud, in the Lower Juba region, hoping to rebuild her life.

She told me: "After two days back home, fighting broke out between government troops and al-Shabab [armed Islamist group]. I could hear the bullets. My children were so scared. They just ran around, trying to get out of the house." The following day, Amina fled to the closest city, Kismayo. She had no relatives there but hoped she'd find safety and work to feed her children. She found neither.

She and her family barely survived for nine months with other displaced civilians in Kismayo's appalling internally displaced persons' camps. After a man in a government uniform raped her, a common occurrence in the unprotected and aid-starved camps across the country, Amina gave up and 10 months ago begged her way back to Dadaab.

But her ordeal didn't end there. The Kenyan authorities have refused to re-register her and her children as refugees, and UNHCR has not reactivated her ration card or given her any food.

"If we send 1,000 people home under the voluntary repatriation agreement but we then register 1,000 new arrivals, we would not get the job done," a Kenyan government official in Dadaab told me

Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR had signed an agreement in November 2013 on the "voluntary repatriation" of Somali refugees. It says that both countries and the UN would make sure that Somalis return voluntarily and safely and would get help to resettle back home. A few months later UNHCR said that "the security situation in many parts of ... Somalia [is] volatile [and] protracted ... conflict has had devastating consequences, including massive displacement, weakened community structures, gross human rights violations and the breakdown of law and order".

But Kenya has repeatedly referred to this agreement as evidence that it is time for all Somalis to go home, stressing that the UN agency should help Kenya "expedite" refugee repatriation.

Somali refugees have a collective memory of previous repeated attempts by Kenyan security forces to coerce "voluntary" returns. In late 2012, Kenyan police in Nairobi unleashed appalling abuses in an effort to enforce an illegal directive to drive tens of thousands of urban Somali refugees into the Dadaab camps and from there back to Somalia. In April 2014, Kenyan security forces, primarily police, carried out a second round of abuses against Somalis in Nairobi and then deported 359 a month later without allowing them to challenge their removal.

In May 2016, Kenya announced that "hosting refugees has to come to an end", that Somali asylum seekers would no longer automatically get refugee status and that the Department of Refugee Affairs, responsible for registering and screening individual asylum applications, would be disbanded.

So far, thankfully, the Kenyan police in Dadaab appear to have been acting properly and the refugees told us they had not been harassed or directly coerced. But they are all aware that the government intends to close the camp by the end of November. Everyone we spoke to expressed the fear that those who do not take the voluntary repatriation assistance package now will be forced back later this year with nothing.

Since mid-2015, Amina and at least another 4,000 Somali refugees have either returned to Kenya after facing conflict and hunger back home or fled to Dadaab for the first time.

But with refugee registrations now closed, Amina and the others won't get food aid. Their survival will depend on the kindness of neighbours or relatives whose own rations were slashed last year by a third because of a funding shortfall. Amina and other returnees and new arrivals will also be the first to face arrest and deportation for "illegal presence" if Kenya shuts down Dadaab in three months.

International and Kenyan law require the authorities to make sure that anyone seeking asylum in Kenya is fairly heard and, if found to need protection, gets it. As long as Kenya continues to shred its commitments, Amina and thousands of others like her will languish hungry and destitute in legal limbo and wake up every morning wondering whether they are about to be deported back to the dangers that many have repeatedly fled and still fear.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary. September 9, 2015.

© 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The massive refugee crisis demands an unprecedented global response. At two summits on September 19 and 20, 2016, at the United Nations, world leaders should take bold steps to share responsibility for millions of people displaced by violence, repression, and persecution.

Leaders will gather in New York to discuss providing greater support to countries where refugees first land, just as many of those countries are at breaking point. There is a grave risk to the bedrock foundation of refugee protection, the principle of nonrefoulement – not forcibly returning refugees to places where they would face persecution and other serious threats. People are fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Honduras, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, among others.

“Millions of lives hang in the balance,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is not just about more money or greater resettlement numbers, but also about shoring up the legal principles for protecting refugees, which are under threat as never before.”

This year, Human Rights Watch has documented Turkish border guards shooting and pushing back civilians who appear to be seeking asylum; Jordan refusing entry or assistance to Syrian asylum seekers at its border; Kenya declaring that it will close the world’s largest refugee camp in November and pushing Somalis to return home despite potential danger; and Pakistan and Iran harassing and deregistering Afghan refugees and coercing them to return to a country in conflict.

The UN General Assembly has convened the September 19 summit “with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach” to refugees. The final statement, already drafted, is a missed opportunity to widen the scope of protection and limits expectations for concrete, new commitments. However, it affirms refugee rights and calls for more equitable responsibility sharing. Given the scale of the refugee crisis and populist backlash in many parts of the world, this affirmation should be the basis for collective action, Human Rights Watch said.

On September 20, US President Barack Obama will host a “Leader’s Summit” to increase commitments for aid, refugee admissions, and opportunities for work and education for refugees. Governments are expected to make concrete pledges toward goals of doubling the number of resettlement places and other admissions, increasing aid by 30 percent, getting 1 million more refugee children in school, and granting 1 million more adult refugees the right to work. Though the participants have not been announced, 30 to 35 countries are expected to attend. Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, and Jordan will join the United States as co-facilitators.

Boost Humanitarian Aid to Countries of First Arrival
The vast majority of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are in the global south, where they often face further harm, discrimination, and neglect. Human Rights Watch called on countries of first arrival like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Thailand, Kenya, Iran, and Pakistan, to commit to proposals to provide refugees with better access to work and education.

The world’s richest nations have largely failed to help countries on the front lines of the displacement crisis. As of September 9, UN aid appeals were 39 percent funded, with some of the worst-funded in Africa; the appeal for refugees from South Sudan stands at 19 percent. The regional refugee response plans for Yemen and Syria are funded at 22 and 49 percent.

Increase Numbers Resettled in Other Countries
Resettlement from countries of first arrival is a key way to help refugees rebuild their lives and to relieve host countries, but international solidarity is glaringly absent. In 2015, the UN refugee agency facilitated resettlement of 81,000 of a projected 960,000 refugees globally in need of resettlement. The agency estimated that over 1.1 million refugees would need resettlement in 2016, but projected that countries would only offer 170,000 places. Representatives of 92 countries pledged only a slight increase in resettlement places for Syrian refugees at a high-level UN meeting in March.

In the European Union, the arrival by boat in 2015 of more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants – and more than 3,700 deaths at sea – laid bare the need for safe and legal channels for refugees to move, such as resettlement.  However, many EU countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, and Hungary, are focused primarily on preventing spontaneous arrivals, outsourcing responsibility, and rolling back refugee rights.

A July 2015 European plan to resettle 22,500 refugees from other regions over two years has resettled only 8,268 refugees, according to figures from July 2016. Most EU countries underperformed, and 10 failed to resettle a single person under the plan.

End Abusive Systems, Flawed Deals
The EU struck a deal with Turkey in March to allow the return to Turkey of almost all asylum seekers on the deeply flawed grounds that Turkey is a safe country for asylum; it is on the verge of falling apart. Australia forcibly transfers all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to offshore processing centers, where they face abuse, inhumane treatment, and neglect.

The EU and Australia should renounce these abusive policies. EU countries should swiftly adopt a proposed permanent resettlement framework with more ambitious goals and a clear commitment to meet them, Human Rights Watch said. They should share fairly the responsibility for asylum seekers arriving spontaneously, and help alleviate the pressure on Greece and Italy.

Governments also undermine asylum with closed camps, as in Kenya and Thailand, and by detaining asylum seekers, as do Australia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, and the United States.

While by many measures the US leads in refugee resettlement and response to UN humanitarian aid appeals, it has been particularly slow and ungenerous in admitting Syrian refugees. And it has had notable blind spots, as with its border policies for Central American children and others fleeing gang violence and its use of Mexico as a buffer to keep them from reaching the US border.

The Obama Administration met its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year in the face of opposition from more than half of US governors and a lack of resettlement funds from Congress, but the US has the capacity to resettle many times that number. It should commit to meeting the Leaders’ Summit goals, which would mean doubling this year’s 85,000 total refugee admissions to 170,000.

Several other countries with capacity to admit far more refugees, including Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, have fallen woefully short. Japan admitted 19 refugees in 2015, South Korea only 42 aside from North Koreans, and Brazil only 6.

Russia resettles no refugees. The Gulf States do not respond to UN resettlement appeals, though Saudi Arabia says it has suspended deportations of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who overstay visitor visas. Most Gulf states, except Kuwait, have also fallen short in their response to Syrian-refugee-related UN appeals to fund refugee needs, according to an Oxfam analysis.

“Every country has a moral responsibility to ensure the rights and dignity of people forced to flee their homes,” Roth said. “When more than 20 million people are counting on a real international effort to address their plight, lofty pronouncements are not enough.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bulgaria bears a “big responsibility” for protecting the European Union’s external borders and should do so “in full respect” of migrants’ human rights, says Europe’s senior minister for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Bulgarian border police stand near a barbed wire fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border on July 17, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

Speaking in the country’s capital, Sofia, Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said Bulgaria had the EU’s support as well as his “personal commitment” as it seeks to police Europe’s outer frontiers.

But can Avramopoulos really be confident that Bulgaria will respect migrants' rights in the way he hopes? Its track record suggests not.

Take the case of 16-year-old ‘Abdullah’ from Afghanistan, who experienced Bulgaria’s “respect” first hand.

“When Bulgarian police saw us, we tried to run away,” he said. “They chased us with dogs and shot at us. There were five police. When they caught us, they started beating us. They kicked me and the others wherever they could reach. They did this for about an hour and threatened us with the dogs. They took my money and mobile.”

Abdullah (not his real name) is one of several migrants and asylum seekers who told Human Rights Watch about summary returns from Bulgaria, and violence both at its borders and inside detention centers in late 2015. These are not new problems; we also documented similar abuses in April and September 2014.

Yet Abdullah’s and hundreds of others’ similar testimonies have fallen on deaf ears at EU headquarters in Brussels. While Bulgaria has the right to protect its borders, it doesn’t have the right to summarily return people to Turkey or physically abuse them. By focusing on border protection, Avramopoulos missed the chance to press Bulgaria on violence against migrants and asylum seekers.

The commission should forcefully remind Bulgaria of EU laws and standards, and urge Bulgarian authorities to investigate these credible reports of abuses and bring them to a halt. Because ignoring Abdullah’s story won’t make the allegations go away, and resorting to violence is no way to manage the refugee crisis.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch's refugee program, monitors, investigates, and documents human rights abuses against refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons, and advocates for the rights and humanitarian needs of all categories of forcibly displaced persons around the world.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Frelick directed Amnesty International USA's refugee program and the US Committee for Refugees (USCR), which he served for 18 years. He was the editor of USCR's annual World Refugee Survey and monthly Refugee Reports. Frelick has traveled to refugee sites throughout the world and is widely published. He taught in the Middle East from 1979-1983 and was co-coordinator of the Asian Center of Clergy and Laity Concerned from 1976-1979. Frelick has a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.A. from Columbia University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Students hold signs as they chant slogans during a protest on the premises of PAKTURK International Schools & Colleges in Karachi, Pakistan November 17, 2016.

 

© 2016 Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

On Sunday, the Pakistani government deported a Turkish educator and his family living in Pakistan back to Turkey, despite their being registered as asylum seekers by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to media reports.

Mesut Kacmaz, his wife and two daughters were picked up from their Lahore home on September 27, allegedly by law enforcement officers. Kacmaz, a well-known educator, was the former vice president of the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges in Pakistan. The family’s UNHCR asylum seeker certificate was valid until November 24, 2017.

Since November 2016, following a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, the Pakistani government has put pressure on Turkish nationals living in Pakistan to leave. Pakistani authorities ordered the staff of the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges out of the country, implying staff had links to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Some Pakistani media reported that the schools are linked to Gulen. The Turkish government holds what it refers to as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) responsible for the attempted coup. Thirty families associated with the schools departed, while Kacmaz’s family stayed on.

After the Kacmaz family was detained, friends petitioned the Lahore High Court to order the government to provide information regarding the family’s whereabouts. On October 6, the government’s lawyer said he was unaware of their location but assured the court that the family would not be deported as they were registered with UNHCR.

The government’s deportation of the asylum seekers not only appears to violate the high court’s order, but would violate Pakistan’s obligations under international law. While Pakistan is not a party to the United Nations refugee convention, customary international law prohibits governments from returning people to places where they risk being persecuted, tortured, or exposed to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Pakistani government has not provided any reasons for the Kacmaz family’s deportation. In keeping with its recent election to the UN Human Rights Council, the government should transparently investigate the detention and deportation of the Kacmaz family, take appropriate disciplinary or legal action against any officials responsible for violating their rights, and adopt and publicize measures to ensure that the rights of other asylum seekers and refugees in the country are fully protected.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Border residents and members of the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) protest to reject border militarization and the deportation of children, outside a detention center in Montana, Texas August 24, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

The Trump administration announced on Sunday that it wants Central American children – even those fleeing for their lives –  to be turned away at the US-Mexico border or quickly sent back to their home countries. This was one of several conditions the administration cast as prerequisites for any legislative deal to protect the Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Another of Trump’s demands would mean that instead of being interviewed by an asylum officer, child asylum seekers would be thrown immediately into immigration courts where they would be pitted against a government trial attorney – a difficult situation for anyone, let alone a child.

There’s something deeply cynical about endangering one group of children as a condition for protecting another.

Reading these demands, I thought of the soft-spoken 16-year-old Salvadoran boy I met in California. Eddie (not his real name) told me he left his home “because I had a problem with the gang.” More accurately, the gang had a problem with him – he repeatedly ducked their requests to join, and they gave him an ultimatum: The next time they saw him, he would either join them or be killed.

Over the past two years I’ve interviewed nearly 100 Central American children like Eddie. Girls as young as 14 told me they escaped gang members who threatened to kill them or their families if they didn’t become their “girlfriends” or sell drugs for them. Boys said local gangs demanded part of their meagre earnings – more than they could afford – for working in their territory. Gangs also threatened to kill them, accusing them of associating with rival gangs, and tried to recruit them against their will.

It’s not enough to say authorities in Central America should address gang violence. Local police are demonstrably unable to protect these children – and frequently unwilling to do so – lest they become targets themselves.

Nor is it realistic to suggest that Mexico can protect these children. Mexico recognized just 130 unaccompanied Central American children as refugees in 2016, less than 1 percent of the more than 17,000 unaccompanied children from those countries who were apprehended during the year. And this is just a fraction of the likely need. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that as many as half of the unaccompanied children who arrive in Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have plausible asylum claims.

Proposing that the US send back children fleeing for their lives is cruel. Lawmakers shouldn’t accept a false choice between protecting Dreamers and other children arriving in search of safety. In fact, there’s every reason for Congress to protect both groups.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Refugees and asylum seekers protest against Australia’s offshore processing policy at a detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

© 2017 Private

Last month, after more than four years of suffering, 25 excited and nervous male refugees left Papua New Guinea's remote Manus Island for a new life in the United States.

Left behind are another 800 men - refugees and asylum-seekers - who are wondering if they too will be rescued by the US government or remain in a dead-end limbo while exposed to violence in Papua New Guinea. 

"We didn't know if the US deal was real or fake," a refugee from Pakistan told me. He has completed his US interview but is not among the 25 who left for the US. "Now we know, but I am still so worried. How many will the US take and when? And who will be left behind?"

For more than four years, Australia has warehoused these men in Papua New Guinea in harsh and dangerous conditions. Papua New Guinea has recognised most of them as refugees who fled persecution in their home countries. They attempted perilous boat journeys to Australia. Instead of finding refuge there, they have faced violent attacks by Papua New Guinean locals and security forces, inadequate medical care, and uncertainty about their future.

Australia's policy of offshore processing is designed to deter future boat migrants. But Manus Island has not turned out to be a welcoming or safe place for the refugees. Quite the opposite. 

I visited Manus Island last week and met men who had been beaten, robbed, and stabbed by young men from the local Papuan community. I met refugee men so paralysed by fear that they rarely leave the guarded centres where they live.

One of them, 35-year-old Jahim (not his real name) from Bangladesh, told me what happened one June morning when he and a friend were in Lorengau town to buy a chicken. A group of local men cornered them, demanding they hand over their phones and belongings. Initially, Jahim resisted. A man put a knife to his throat. "I was too late in handing over the phone. It's the only way to contact my family. Then he cut me here." He shows me a long scar at his elbow.

Following the attack, Jahim went to the local hospital. He says hospital staff claimed they could not treat him, and only offered him some pain relief. So Jahim took a taxi to the main detention centre on a naval base, which maintains a medical clinic. From there, authorities sent Jahim by plane to Port Moresby hospital for surgery.

Nearly everyone I spoke to had witnessed or experienced violence or theft by local men, usually young, often intoxicated. The night before I arrived, a large group of local youths beat two Afghans near the transit centre. "I hadn't left the transit centre in three months because I don't feel safe," one of the refugees told me. "I went out and they wanted to fight us. They beat me with sticks, with rocks until I fell down dizzy. They took my phone, my money." His face was still swollen from the beating.

Refugees say Manus police have not held anyone to account for these robberies. Refugees have stopped reporting the cases to the police because of their inaction. Jahim told me, "I didn't tell the police. The police are not listening to us. It's not my country. Now when I see Papuans, I feel scared. I don't come to town."

The Australian government forcibly transferred these men to Manus Island. Now it is forcing them to leave the main detention centre by October 31, and has already started dismantling some buildings. Australian and Papua New Guinean officials say the men must move to a less-secure transit facility closer to town or else return to their home countries.

Supposedly, this is to implement a Supreme Court ruling from April 2015, which ruled detention of the men at the centre unconstitutional, forcing both governments to unlock the gates and provide some freedom of movement. I don't think another forcible transfer is what the judges had in mind.

It is a tragic irony that the only place on Manus Island these men feel safe right now is inside a centre where occasionally soldiers and police have shot at them, where locals once attacked them with machetes and beat them. But that centre, for now, is guarded and provides some security.

Papua New Guinea is not a safe place for any foreigner, but it is especially dangerous for young men without money or connections, many of whom do not speak English and have little experience of living in hostile foreign environments.

However grudgingly, the US government has done Australia a favour by agreeing to resettle some of the men from Manus Island and some of the 1,100 men, women and children from Nauru. But that's no excuse for Australia's inaction about those who remain. 

Australia should immediately end offshore processing and resettlement by bringing every one of these men, women and children here to either have their asylum claims processed or if they are refugees, to restart their lives here. As Australia's partner, the US can help, by insisting that Australia should leave nobody behind in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. It can press Australia to accept offers to take some of the refugees that have been made by other generous third countries like New Zealand. Every day these men remain on Manus is another day of suffering.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Smoke is seen on Myanmar's side of border as an old Rohingya refugee woman is carried after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, September 15, 2017. 
 

©2017 Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

(Dhaka) – The Burmese military summarily executed several dozen Rohingya Muslims in Maung Nu village in Burma’s Rakhine State on August 27, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. Witnesses said that Burmese soldiers had beaten, sexually assaulted, stabbed, and shot villagers who had gathered for safety in a residential compound, two days after Rohingya militants attacked a local security outpost and military base.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify estimates of the number of villagers killed. Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch shows the near total destruction of the villages of Maung Nu (known locally as Monu Para) and nearby Hpaung Taw Pyin (known locally as Pondu Para). The damage signatures are consistent with fire.

“All the horrors of the Burmese army’s crimes against humanity against the Rohingya are evident in the mass killings in Maung Nu village,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These atrocities demand more than words from concerned governments; they need concrete responses with consequences.”

Satellite imagery showing the destruction in Maung Nu Village, Rakhine State, since August 2017.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch
On September 28, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss Burma publicly for the first time in eight years, but took no action. Human Rights Watch repeated its call for the council and concerned countries to adopt an arms embargo and individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against Burmese military commanders implicated in abuses.

Human Rights Watch spoke with 14 survivors and witnesses from Maung Nu and surrounding villages in the Chin Tha Mar village tract of Buthidaung Township. The witnesses, now refugees in Bangladesh, said that after the militant attacks they feared Burmese military retaliation. Several hundred gathered in a large residential compound in Maung Nu. Several Burmese soldiers entered the compound while others surrounded it. They took several dozen Rohingya men and boys into the courtyard and then shot or stabbed them to death. Others were killed as they tried to flee. The soldiers then loaded the bodies – some witnesses said a hundred or more – into military trucks and took them away.

Muhamedul Hassan, an 18-year-old Rohingya man from Maung Nu village who was shot multiple times by Burmese soldiers. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Attacks by Militants

Over 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh to escape mass atrocities by Burmese security forces. The crackdown followed after militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), on August 25, attacked a military camp and about 30 security force outposts throughout northern Rakhine State. The government reported that the militants killed 11 security force personnel during the attacks.

The militants attacked the headquarters of the Western Command’s Light Infantry Battalion 552 in Taung Bazar, about 10 kilometers north of Maung Nu. The government said that at least 10 militants were killed.

One of the post attacks occurred early that morning close to the market in Hpaung Taw Pyin, just north of Maung Nu, when ARSA militants attacked a checkpoint manned by the Border Guard Police (BGP). Residents living near the market told Human Rights Watch that they were sleeping at home and heard heavy gunfire coming from the area near the BGP checkpoint. They said gunfire continued until about 6 a.m.

Mohammad Usman, a 15-year-old Rohingya, said he was awakened by the heavy gunfire. When their homes caught fire, he and other villagers fled, but it was too dark to see who was shooting. “We ran out of our house to other villages,” he said. “Bullets were falling like rain and people were falling down around me. Suddenly, I felt something hit my arm and then my back. I lost consciousness and I woke up in someone else’s home.” Mohammad said he had been shot in the arm and hit by shrapnel in the back.

The Burmese government reported that over 100 militants took part in that attack using “swords, firearms and bombs,” and that two police officers and two militants were killed. There are numerous reports of serious abuses committed by ARSA militants, though Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently verify those accounts, in part because of the lack of access to northern Rakhine State.

Human Rights Watch could not verify the government’s figures, but witnesses said that after the fighting ceased soldiers from the army camp requisitioned a large private boat onto which they loaded an unknown number of bodies from near the village marketplace. The boat owner, Mohammad Zubair, identified the soldier who seized the boat as Staff Sergeant Baju from an army camp just south of the market occupied by Light Infantry Battalion 564. Zubair said he watched the soldiers load the bodies, some of which he recognized as young Rohingya men from the area.

Killing of Villagers by Soldiers

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that after the militant attacks, several hundred frightened Rohingya villagers from the surrounding area fled to the compound of Badrudduza and Zahid Hossain, two well-off men in Maung Nu village, seeking safety and shelter. The large property is less than 200 meters from the main road that runs in a north-south direction through Buthidaung Township. Within the compound were a large two-story, mud-walled structure, several smaller buildings, and a large rectangular pond. Most of the men sought shelter upstairs while the women and most of the younger children crowded onto the ground floor. The witnesses said they gathered together hoping there would be safety in numbers.

Witnesses said about two dozen Burmese soldiers arrived at the crowded property late in the morning on August 27. One soldier, identified by many witnesses as Staff Sergeant Baju, led several soldiers into the courtyard and began calling to the people hiding in the house in the Rohingya language. Villagers said Baju had lived at the nearby military base for 15 years and spoke Rohingya. Several overheard Baju trying to convince the men and boys inside the house that they would not be killed if they left the buildings.

Villagers inside the courtyard as well as some who managed to escape and were observing from hillsides overlooking the compound, said that soldiers brought Rohingya men and boys into the courtyard. The soldiers bound their hands behind their back. Then they beat them, stabbed and slashed them with long knives, and shot them.

Abdul Jabar, 60, said the soldiers made the men kneel down as they struck them with the butts of their rifles and kicked them repeatedly before killing them: “[T]hey killed people from the back with machetes and they also fired on them with their guns.”

Mohammad Ayas, 29, said that he managed to hide in the rafters of the house and saw soldiers kill numerous people: “They are slaughtering them just like they are clearing the jungle with their thin, sharp, and long knives.”

Muhamedul Hassan, 18, said that a dozen soldiers, led by Staff Sergeant Baju, took him and two male relatives, Mohammad Zobair and Foyas, from their house to Zahid Hossain’s nearby courtyard. Hassan said that when they got there, there were hundreds of men and boys tied up. He said:

Four soldiers took [me and my relatives] to the corner of the courtyard and shot us each twice in the back. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I saw many men still tied and [the soldiers] were still killing people. Many were stabbed to death. When I tried to flee I was shot in the chest but was able to escape.

Muhamedul showed Human Rights Watch his bullet wounds. He said that in addition to the two executed beside him, nearly 30 more male relatives were killed that day.

Witnesses also described seeing children executed. Khotiaz, 28, recounted the killing of her nephew: “When Baju entered the room, there was my nephew, Mohammod Tofail. He was 10 years old. He was a student of class two. First Baju shot him in the head, his skull shattered into four pieces. Then he fell down. I saw there were brain and blood on the floor.”

Mustafa, 22, said: “There was a pit with [the bodies of] 10 to 15 children, all under 12 years old. They were all young children hacked to death. I recognized four of the bodies: Hakim Ali, 9; Naim, 8; one child from Pondu Para, who was about 10; and Chau Mong, who was 7.”

Witnesses said that after the killings, the soldiers gathered the bodies on green tarps and loaded them onto pushcarts, then brought the bodies to military vehicles. The removal of bodies took hours, several witnesses said.

“I saw outside that there were piles of dead bodies.” Mustafa said. “I could see the soldiers using carts [to move the bodies] and I recognized one of the carts was mine.” Mustafa said he heard the sounds of the trucks and vehicles for four hours.

Sexual Assault

Human Rights Watch received credible reports that soldiers subjected women to invasive body searches, non-consensual touching, and sexual assault at the compound in Maung Nu.

Khotiaz, 28, said that soldiers targeted women hiding on the property, including the large building where she hid: “They entered the room and stripped some of the women naked. They snatched everything I had. They touched [me] everywhere and tried to take off my clothes.”

A 30-year-old woman said the soldiers were looking for money and other valuables. “One soldier put his hand inside my chest, and he took my cellphone and money, also,” she said. “Then he opened my thami [lower part of a woman’s dress]. And there was some gold and money [he found], which he took. Then he touched me everywhere.”

Witnesses said they fled the village when the military left the area. Many spent weeks trying to reach the Bangladesh border, where they crossed with thousands of other Rohingya.

In March, the UN Human Rights Council agreed to send a fact-finding mission of international experts to investigate the abuses, but the Burmese government said it would not allow the investigators to enter.

“Burmese military commanders cannot use the excuse of militant attacks to avoid justice and punishment,” Robertson said. “The UN fact-finding mission needs to investigate these atrocities, including commanders who ordered the attack or failed to punish those involved.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

These cases are important. We need to know that these trials are happening because these are the crimes we are fleeing. —Hassan, Syrian refugee in Germany, February 2017

Over the last six years the Syrian crisis has claimed the lives of an estimated 475,000 people as of July 2017, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. All sides to the conflict have committed serious crimes under international law amid a climate of impunity.

A range of groups have actively documented violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Syria. In late 2016, the United Nations General Assembly also created a mechanism tasked with analyzing and collecting evidence of serious crimes committed in Syria suitable for use in future proceedings before any court or tribunal that may have a mandate over these crimes.

But for the most part, the wealth of information and materials available has not helped to progress international efforts to achieve justice for past and ongoing serious international crimes in the country. Syria is not a party to the International Criminal Court, so unless Syria accepts the court’s jurisdiction voluntarily, the court’s prosecutor needs the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to her in order to open an investigation there. However, in 2014, Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have given the prosecutor such a mandate. And neither Syrian authorities nor other parties to the conflict have taken any steps to ensure credible accountability in Syria or abroad, fueling further atrocities.

Against this background, efforts by various authorities in Europe to investigate, and, where possible, prosecute serious international crimes committed in Syria, may provide a limited measure of justice while other avenues remain blocked.

The principle of “universal jurisdiction” allows national prosecutors to pursue individuals believed to be responsible for certain grave international crimes such as torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, even though they were committed elsewhere and neither the accused nor the victims are nationals of the country.

Such prosecutions are an increasingly important part of international efforts to hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes, and help ensure that countries do not become safe havens for human rights abusers. 

Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit, notably in Swedish and German courts. While various authorities in Europe have opened investigations of serious international crimes committed in Syria, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for these crimes.

This report outlines ongoing efforts in Sweden and Germany to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in such crimes in Syria.

Drawing on interviews with relevant authorities and 45 Syrian refugees living in these countries, the report highlights challenges that German and Swedish authorities face in taking up these types of cases, and the experience of refugees and asylum seekers in interacting with the authorities and pursuing justice. In so doing, this report draws valuable lessons for the countries involved and other countries considering investigations involving grave abuses committed in Syria.

The report finds that both countries have several elements in place to allow for the successful investigation and prosecution of grave crimes in Syria—above all comprehensive legal frameworks, well-functioning specialized war crimes units, and previous experience with the prosecution of such crimes. In addition, due to the large numbers of Syrian asylum seekers and refugees in Europe, previously unavailable victims, witnesses, material evidence, and even some suspects are now within the reach of the authorities. As the two largest destination countries for Syrian asylum seekers in Europe, Germany and Sweden were the first countries in which individuals were tried and convicted for serious international crimes in Syria.

Nonetheless, both countries have faced difficulties in their efforts. On one hand, authorities pursuing cases on the basis of universal jurisdiction encounter challenges that are inherent to these types of cases, and solutions to some of these challenges are beyond the reach of authorities. For example, these cases are usually brought against people present in the territory of the prosecuting country and authorities cannot control whether or not certain individuals will travel to their country at a specific time.

On the other hand, the standard challenges associated with pursuing universal jurisdiction cases are compounded, in the case of Syria, by an ongoing conflict in which there is no access to crime scenes. As a result, authorities in both countries have been compelled to turn elsewhere for information, including from Syrian asylum seekers and refugees, counterparts in other European countries, UN entities, and nongovernmental groups involved in documenting atrocities in Syria.

According to practitioners and refugees Human Rights Watch interviewed in Sweden and Germany, gathering relevant information from Syrian refugees and asylum seekers has proved difficult due to their fear of possible retribution against loved ones back home, mistrust of police and government officials based on negative experiences with Syrian authority figures, and feelings of abandonment by host countries and the international community. “Our disappointment is not from the regime, we know the regime, we survived the regime,” one Syrian activist told Human Rights Watch. “Our disappointment is with the world. They use human rights when they need it.”

The report also documents a lack of awareness among Syrian asylum seekers and refugees in Sweden and Germany about the systems in place for the investigation and prosecution of grave crimes, the possibility of their contributing to domestic justice efforts, or the right of victims to participate in criminal proceedings. Most Syrian refugees interviewed were either unaware of ongoing and completed proceedings related to Syria, or had limited or inaccurate information about the cases. Others had unrealistic expectations about what national authorities could deliver by way of accountability given different constraints they face.

Recognizing these issues, authorities in both countries are working to address some of them through various outreach efforts, although more needs to be done and limited resources and mandates constrain efficacy. In addition, authorities need to balance facilitating contact, input and information sharing with potential victims and witnesses with confidentiality requirements inherent in criminal investigations, the risk of being overwhelmed with potentially vast amount of information, and managing expectations of what they will be able to deliver and when to victim communities and the public at large.

Authorities in Sweden and Germany reported that the existence of efficient protocols at the European level has led to good cooperation related to Syria cases, but said they have had limited or no contact with countries neighboring Syria. They have also started to reach out to nongovernmental and intergovernmental actors, including the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, although authorities said that cooperation was slow and that, because of their different mandates, the information collected by these entities while useful at the investigation stage might not meet domestic thresholds for admissible evidence in criminal proceedings.

While any credible criminal proceedings that lead to accountability for crimes committed during the conflict are welcome, the reality is that the initial few cases authorities have been able to successfully prosecute within their jurisdictions are not representative of the scale or nature of the abuses committed in Syria.

The few cases to reach trial have mostly implicated low-level members of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and non-state armed groups opposed to the government while only one has addressed alleged crimes committed by a low-level member of the Syrian army. In Germany, practical and jurisdictional limitations, such as difficulties finding evidence linking alleged perpetrators to underlying crimes, have also made it easier to bring terrorism charges rather than prosecute for war crimes or crimes against humanity. Terrorism offenses are easier to prosecute because authorities only have to prove connection between the accused and a labeled terrorist organization. However, terrorism charges do not reflect the extent of crimes committed.

Terrorism prosecutions, or prosecutions of low-ranking members of armed groups, should not substitute for efforts to successfully prosecute grave crimes committed by senior officers that are likely to more directly promote compliance with international humanitarian law and ensure justice for grave crimes.

There is also the problem of perception. The use of terrorism charges without significant efforts to pursue prosecutions for war crimes or crimes against humanity, where there is indication that such international crimes were committed, could send the message that the authorities’ only focus is to combat domestic threats. Efforts to pursue terrorism charges can and should go hand in hand with efforts and resources to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Syrian refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch in both countries expressed frustration that cases prosecuted to date reflect neither the full spectrum of the perpetrators nor of the atrocities committed in Syria. In particular, they said, the lack of cases brought against individuals affiliated with the Syrian government led them to question the balance and fairness of the proceedings overall.

In order to address some of the challenges authorities are facing, Sweden and Germany should ensure that their war crimes units are adequately resourced and staffed, provide them with ongoing training, and consider new ways to better engage with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers on their territory.

Overall, the limited nature of the proceedings to date highlights the need for a more comprehensive justice process to address the ongoing impunity in Syria, and means to engage as many jurisdictions as possible where fair and credible trials can be pursued. A number of potential perpetrators, including high-level officials or senior military commanders affiliated with the Syrian government, are unlikely to travel to Europe. To fill this gap, a multi-tiered, cross-cutting approach will be needed in the long-term which, in addition to proceedings under universal jurisdiction, should include other judicial mechanisms at the international and national level.

Recommendations

To Sweden and Germany

  • Ensure that specialized war crimes units within law enforcement and prosecution services are adequately resourced and staffed, including by providing the war crimes units within law enforcement with Syria experts, information technology analysts, forensic analysts, and in-house translators. In the case of Germany, provide the war crimes unit within law enforcement with additional funds and personnel to enable it to filter the information it receives from different sources in relation to grave crimes committed in Syria.
  • Provide adequate ongoing training for war crimes unit practitioners, judges, and defense and victims’ lawyers, in issues such as interviewing traumatized witnesses and assessing witness protection needs.
  • Consistent with fair trial standards, explore options to enhance protective measures available to witnesses in proceedings related to grave international crimes where necessary to protect witness’ families in other countries.
  • Inform asylum seekers who may have been victims or witnesses of grave international crimes that they have the right to report these crimes to the police and to participate in criminal proceedings, including information about the process for doing so. Consider using all appropriate channels of communication for this purpose, including videos and social media.
  • Ensure that information provided by individuals in asylum interviews is not shared with law enforcement or prosecution entities without the express informed consent of those individuals, and guarantee as a matter of law that decisions about their refugee status are not contingent on cooperation with law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities.
  • Make torture a standalone criminal offense in line with article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture.
  • When there is sufficient evidence to link a suspect to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, do not limit charges to terrorism offenses.
  • Translate important decisions, judgments, press releases, and relevant websites with information on the cases involving crimes in Syria into appropriate languages, such as Arabic and English.
  • Consider providing information in appropriate languages, including Arabic and English, on law enforcement and prosecution services websites, electronic applications, and any other similar means used to communicate with the general public on how victims or witnesses of grave international crimes can contact the specialized war crimes units.
  • Consider publicizing relevant press conferences and events in which the war crimes units discuss their work within the Syrian community.
  • Ensure war crimes units and immigration authorities conduct outreach regarding their mandate to Syrian refugees, asylum seekers, and the broader public in multiple languages including Arabic and English. Consider utilizing social networking platforms to better engage with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers and popularize the work of the units.
  • Ensure authorities adequately advertise or distribute the tools they already have available as part of their outreach efforts, including electronic applications, web pages, and brochures.
  • Ensure immigration case workers and interpreters employed to assist during asylum interviews are properly trained.
  • Ensure that authorities do not use immigration powers to remove persons suspected of serious international crimes instead of prosecuting them, where there is sufficient evidence to do so.
  • Continue to provide political and financial support to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria.

To Other Countries Considering Serious Crimes Investigations on Syria

  • Establish specialized war crime units within law enforcement and prosecution services where they do not already exist, and ensure they are adequately resourced.
  • Establish an adequate legal framework for prosecuting international crimes where one is not in place.
  • Ensure effective and meaningful collaboration between the specialized units, including through convening of regular meetings to discuss specific cases.
  • Establish a clear and transparent framework for cooperation between immigration authorities and war crimes units that allows for information sharing while protecting the asylum seekers’ rights, including confidentiality.
  • Provide adequate ongoing training for war crimes unit practitioners, judges and defense and victims’ lawyers, such as training in interviewing traumatized witnesses and assessing witness protection needs.
  • When there is sufficient evidence to link a suspect to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, do not limit charges to terrorism offenses.
  • Refrain from deporting individuals who have been excluded from refugee status without determining that their removal would expose them to a real risk of torture, unfair trials, or other improper or inhuman treatment.

To the European Union

  • Provide the EU Genocide Network and Eurojust with adequate resources to carry out their mandate and provide support to member states, including to continue with the organization of ad hoc meetings, to assist countries without specialized war crimes units, and to facilitate regular briefings at the European Parliament.
  • Ensure authorities use information shared through the new EASO Exclusion Network to prosecute or extradite for prosecution elsewhere persons suspected of serious international crimes where there is sufficient evidence rather than deporting them. Ensure that no one, irrespective of 1F status, is deported or extradited to a country where they would face a real risk of torture, unfair trial, or other improper or inhuman treatment.
  • Establish a central database for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide within Europol and ensure Europol has adequate analytical support.

To the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria

  • Continue cooperation with domestic authorities engaged in the investigation and prosecution of grave crimes committed in Syria, including by maintaining existing lines of communication.
  • Cooperate with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria to ensure complementarity and avoid duplication in the work of the two entities.

To the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Member States

  • Continue cooperation with domestic authorities engaged in the investigation and prosecution of grave crimes committed in Syria, including by maintaining existing lines of communication.
  • Cooperate with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria to ensure complementarity and avoid duplication in the work of the two entities.
  • Ensure the Commission of Inquiry on Syria is adequately resourced and staffed through the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) process, including by dedicating personnel to the Commission’s work on cooperation with domestic authorities engaged in the investigation and prosecution of grave crimes committed in Syria and providing access to appropriate software and other tools to assist in such cooperation.

To the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria

  • Cooperate with domestic authorities engaged in the investigation and prosecution of grave crimes committed in Syria, including by establishing an ongoing dialogue with domestic authorities.
  • Coordinate and cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria to ensure complementarity and avoid duplication in the work of the two entities.

Methodology

This report is based on desk research conducted between October 2016 and July 2017 and field research conducted in Sweden and Germany in January and February 2017, respectively.

Human Rights Watch chose to focus on Sweden and Germany because they have received the largest number of asylum applications from Syrians since 2011 and were the first two countries in which trials related to grave crimes in Syria were completed. In addition, both countries have functioning specialized war crimes units within their law enforcement and prosecution services.

This report focuses on cases pursued by Swedish and German authorities under the principle of “universal jurisdiction.” However, two Syria-related cases in Germany also included in this report were brought under the “active personality principle,” another form of jurisdiction that a state’s judicial system may enjoy if the alleged perpetrator is a citizen of the prosecuting country.

While a range of different actors are involved in these cases—including defense and victims’ lawyers—Human Rights Watch’s research focused on the work of law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities.

In this report, the terms “serious international crimes” and “grave international crimes” are used interchangeably to refer to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with 50 individuals in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Turkey, including prosecutors, police investigators, analysts, immigration officials, victims’ and defense lawyers, government officials, academics, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international and European organizations, and journalists. A Human Rights Watch researcher also observed a hearing in the trial against Haisam Omar Sakhanh in the Stockholm District Court in Sweden on January 18, 2017.

Most interviews with officials and experts were conducted in person, but several took place by phone or over email. Nearly all were conducted in English, but three took place in German with an interpreter’s assistance. Many individuals wanted to speak candidly but did not wish to be cited by name or otherwise identified. As a result, information has been withheld that could be used to identify them. The term “practitioner” is used in this report to ensure that sources are not inadvertently revealed; the term variously refers to prosecutors, police investigators, analysts, immigration officials, and lawyers involved in serious international crimes proceedings.

In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed 45 Syrian refugees between 17 and 58 years old; 10 women and 35 men from different parts of Syria. Ten interviewees were human rights activists. Human Rights Watch interviewed 19 refugees in Sweden (9 in Värmdö, 9 in Varberg, and one over the phone), and 26 in Germany (12 in Berlin, 9 in Hannover and 5 in Cologne). In Sweden, 2 refugees were interviewed individually (including one over the telephone), while 17 were interviewed in small focus groups comprised of four to five persons. In Germany, 8 refugees were interviewed individually, while 18 were interviewed in small focus groups comprised of two to five persons. Twenty-two of the Syrian refugees said they had been detained by the Syrian government; 16 told Human Rights Watch they had been tortured by government forces. Most of these interviews were conducted in Arabic with the assistance of an interpreter, but 9 took place in English. All of the names of the Syrian refugees interviewed have been withheld to protect their identities, and they are instead referred to using pseudonyms.

All interviewees were informed of the purpose of the interviews and the ways in which data would be collected and used, and voluntarily agreed to participate.

I.Background

Individuals from the various armed groups and sides of the Syrian conflict have committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Since 2011, more than 106,000 people have been detained or disappeared, most of them by government forces, including 4,557 between January and June 2016 alone, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.[1] Torture and ill-treatment are rampant in government detention facilities, where thousands have died. The Syrian-Russian coalition has carried out airstrikes targeting or indiscriminately striking civilian areas and Syrian government forces have used cluster, incendiary, and chemical weapons in widespread and systematic attacks, in some cases directed against civilians. The Syrian government and pro-government forces have committed further widespread abuses, including unlawfully blocking humanitarian aid, imposing unlawful sieges, extrajudicial executions, and forced displacement.[2]

The Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and the former Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (later known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and then Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), are also responsible for systematic and widespread violations, including targeting civilians with artillery, kidnappings, and executions. ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra have imposed strict and discriminatory rules on women and girls and have actively recruited child soldiers. ISIS has sexually enslaved and abused Yezidi women and girls, used civilians as human shields, and planted victim activated antipersonnel mines in and around territory they have lost, maiming and killing civilians attempting to flee or return home. ISIS has also committed at least three documented attacks against civilians using chemical weapons.[3]

Non-state armed groups opposing the government have also attacked civilians indiscriminately, used child soldiers, engaged in kidnap and torture, unlawfully blocked humanitarian aid, and imposed unlawful sieges.[4]

The United States has supported forces on the ground, including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—comprised of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and other groups. The SDF, YPG and the local Kurdish police, the Asayish, have committed abuses, including the use of child soldiers, arbitrary detention and mistreatment of detainees, alleged disappearances and killings of individuals politically opposed to the Democratic Union Party, and endangered civilians by positioning forces in populated civilian areas.[5]

Both the US-led coalition and Turkish forces were responsible for possibly unlawful airstrikes that caused civilian casualties.[6]

Human Rights Watch has concluded that many of these abuses committed by individuals from all parties since the beginning of the Syrian crisis may amount to war crimes and in some cases crimes against humanity.

In August 2013, a military defector code-named “Caesar” smuggled 53,275 photos out of Syria, many showing the bodies of detainees who died in detention centers.[7] The outrage generated by the images among some Security Council Members prompted France to table a UN Security Council resolution that would have given the International Criminal Court (ICC) a mandate over serious international crimes committed in Syria since 2011. But on May 22, 2014 Russia and China vetoed the resolution, preventing the court’s involvement.[8]

Because Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, the court can only obtain jurisdiction over crimes there if the Security Council refers the situation in Syria to the court’s prosecutor or if Syria voluntarily accepts the court’s authority.[9] Neither is currently a realistic prospect.

The ICC resolution’s defeat means that most avenues toward achieving criminal accountability remain blocked, whether through an international tribunal or at the national level in Syria. The lack of accountability that has resulted has undoubtedly contributed to further grave abuses by all sides to the conflict. At the same time, support for the resolution from many governments and NGOs reflected the widespread international desire to see justice for serious international crimes in Syria.

Documenting Abuses

In response to the Security Council deadlock on Syria, the General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2016 that established an unprecedented mechanism to assist in the investigation of serious international crimes committed there since 2011.[10]

In addition, a range of entities have actively documented violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Syria over the last six years. In 2015, the Security Council established the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria and to attribute responsibility for any attacks.[11] Since then, the JIM has published five reports and has named the Syrian government and ISIS as responsible for chemical attacks in Syria.[12] The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the UN Human Rights Council in August 2011, has published 22 in-depth reports on grave violations by all sides (14 mandated and 8 thematic reports).[13] Multiple organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, and various local Syrian groups are also involved in different kinds of initiatives aimed at documenting serious crimes in Syria.[14]

Documentation efforts, including preserving potential evidence, will continue to be important and could be vital to future domestic and international accountability processes. At the same time, a judicial forum is still needed for the comprehensive prosecution of perpetrators of serious international crimes in Syria.

National Prosecutions in Foreign Courts

Typically, national authorities are only able to investigate a crime if there is a link between their country and the crime. The normal linkage is territorial meaning that the crime, or a significant element of it, was committed on the territory of the country wishing to exercise jurisdiction (territorial jurisdiction principle). Many states also prosecute on the basis of the personality, meaning that the alleged perpetrator is a citizen of that country (active personality principle), or the victim of the crime is a citizen (passive personality principle). However, some national courts have been granted the jurisdiction to act even if there is no territorial or personality link. This principle—universal jurisdiction—can normally only be invoked to prosecute a limited number of international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, genocide, piracy, attacks on UN personnel, and enforced disappearances.

Using the principle of universal jurisdiction, several countries have ensured their domestic laws are broad enough to allow law enforcement to pursue individuals in their countries believed to be responsible for certain grave international crimes, even though the crimes were committed elsewhere and the accused and victims are not country nationals. For the most part, countries’ laws require the suspect of these international crimes be present on their territory or be a resident before national authorities can invoke jurisdiction in these cases.[15]

Germany, Sweden, and Norway are the only countries in Europe with “pure” universal jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—meaning that no link is required between the countries and the crime for national authorities to have jurisdiction, and investigations into these cases can proceed even if the suspect is not present on their territory or a resident. Nonetheless, prosecutors have broad discretion to decide whether or not to pursue investigations if the suspect is not in the country, reflecting in part the practical difficulties of securing justice in the absence of the accused.[16]

While a number of European countries have ongoing investigations related to grave abuses in Syria such as torture and other war crimes and crimes against humanity, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries in which individuals have been prosecuted and convicted for these crimes.

Syrians in Sweden and Germany

Germany and Sweden have received the highest number of Syrian asylum applications of all European countries—64 percent of 970,316 total applications between April 2011 and July 2017 (507,795 in Germany, 112,899 in Sweden), according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.[17]

Share

Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Germany and Sweden consistently stressed the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities committed in Syria. Interviewees cited a range of reasons, including helping to restore dignity to victims by acknowledging their suffering. Ahmad, a journalist who explained he was detained and tortured by the Syrian government for his press work, said:

If we keep silent it’s like we are involved in the crime. For me and for others the priority is justice. I’ve been tortured, jailed for something that was legal. My rights have been violated.[18]

Samira, who lost several members of her family in the war and said she witnessed various atrocities, expressed her personal desire for justice:

My brother was killed with 14 bullets by the regime. I saw awful things, all my family died. I saw five children being executed, I saw their heads being cut off. I couldn’t sleep for a week. […] It’s very important to have justice which will let me feel that I’m human.[19]

For other interviewees, these proceedings represent not only a means of redress for victims and punishment for perpetrators, but also a way of deterring future violations. Abdullah, who said he was detained and tortured by the Syrian government while still a child and had members of his family killed by government forces told Human Rights Watch:

I became a man while I was in prison. […] I suffer a lot. My father was killed in a massacre and I don’t want to see the people who did it in Sweden. These trials are important to prevent crimes in Syria.[20]

Ayman, who told Human Rights Watch he was detained and tortured in two different government facilities and had members of his family suffer the same fate, explained:

It’s not about what happened to us, it’s for the people who die in jail. It’s a political decision as well for something to happen because up to now there have been a lot of reports, but nothing has happened.[21]

Syrians Human Rights Watch spoke to in Sweden and Germany also said that prosecuting grave crimes could build respect for, and confidence in, the rule of law, and serve as a warning to perpetrators of grave abuses that they will not escape accountability. Muhammad, an activist engaged in accountability efforts on behalf of some victims in Germany, said:

These people [members of the Syrian government] think that the political solution will come and they will be able to escape to Europe. I want them to feel haunted like they’ve haunted people all their life. We need to send a message of hope to victims and to send the message to criminals that they will not escape.[22]

Aisha, who said she was detained by the Syrian government and witnessed acts of torture by government forces against family members, said: “Don’t let them live their life: if anyone wants to run away, courts are waiting.”[23]

Some interviewees also cited reasons linked to their refugee status and believed that criminal cases in their countries of asylum may help combat xenophobic discourse in Europe by showing that refugees are in fact fleeing the crimes being prosecuted and are cooperating in bringing criminals to justice.

Othman, a student who said he was detained and tortured by the Syrian government and witnessed a massacre, told Human Rights Watch that he was worried about Swedish citizens’ perception of Syrian refugees, and thought criminal proceedings would help the population feel secure:

… in Sweden, there is a lot of generalization on refugees. I face this all the time. It’s important for Swedes to feel safe. With these trials, they will know that the bad people will be punished. […] The important thing is that Swedes know that they can feel safe.[24]

Finally, some of the Syrian refugees described trials in third countries such as Sweden or Germany as a small step towards a more comprehensive justice for Syria in the long-term. Mustafa, a former humanitarian worker in Syria said:

It’s very important that this is happening. Trials are important, no matter the affiliation. It’s important to pave the way for future justice.[25]

II.Frameworks for Justice in Sweden and Germany

Sweden and Germany are the first two countries in which individuals have been prosecuted for serious international crimes committed in Syria during the current conflict.[26] There are several reasons for this.

First, both countries have laws and specialized war crimes units within their law enforcement and prosecution services focused on addressing grave international crimes committed abroad. In addition, immigration authorities in Sweden and Germany play a key role supporting the war crimes units by sharing relevant information.

Second, authorities in both countries have previous experience in prosecuting grave international crimes cases. In 1997, Germany became the first country where a person was convicted for genocide based on universal jurisdiction.[27] After war crimes units were set up in 2009, German prosecutors also prosecuted individuals for serious international crimes committed in Rwanda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iraq.[28] Swedish prosecutors secured their first conviction for war crimes in 2006, for atrocities committed during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia in 1993.[29] Six more cases have been pursued since the creation of the Swedish war crimes units, against individuals for serious international crimes committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Iraq.[30]

Third, the presence of large numbers of Syrians means that there are victims and potential perpetrators, and perhaps a greater political impetus on the part of the authorities to hold any perpetrators in their territory to account.

Laws

Sweden

In June 2014, Sweden adopted the Act on Criminal Responsibility for Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, and War Crimes.[31] The act’s provisions in large part mirror those of the Rome Statute of the ICC. It provides the basis for prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and incorporates the different modes of liability typically used in international criminal law including command responsibility. War crimes committed before the act entered into force in 2014 are currently prosecuted under the Swedish Penal Code as “crimes against international law.”[32] Torture is not yet a standalone crime under Swedish law but can be charged as a war crime or a crime against humanity.[33]

According to the Swedish Penal Code, Sweden has “pure” universal jurisdiction for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—meaning no specific link to Sweden is required to prosecute these crimes, even if they were committed outside of Sweden and neither the alleged perpetrator nor the victims are Swedish nationals or present on Swedish territory.[34] Prosecutors have discretion to decide whether to proceed with a case based on evidence available to them, but must prosecute when there is sufficient evidence.[35]

Germany

Germany was one of the first countries to incorporate the Rome Statute of the ICC domestically through its Code for Crimes against International Law (CCAIL) in 2002.[36] This code defines war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in accordance with the ICC treaty and also incorporates provisions on command responsibility, among other modes of liability. Under German law, torture is not a standalone offense, but can be charged as a crime against humanity or as a war crime.[37]

Under the CCAIL, German authorities can investigate and prosecute grave international crimes committed abroad, even when these offenses have no specific link to Germany. However, this form of “pure” universal jurisdiction is tempered by certain procedural restrictions.[38] In particular, article 153(f) of the German Code of Criminal Procedure gives prosecutors discretion not to open an investigation for CCAIL crimes when:

  1. No German is suspected of having committed the crime;
  2. The offense was not committed against a German;
  3. No suspect is, or is expected to be, resident in Germany;
  4. The offense is being prosecuted by an international court of justice or by a country on whose territory the offense was committed, a citizen of which is either suspected of the offense, or suffered injury as a result of the offense.[39]

Institutions

Sweden

Swedish police have a specialized war crimes unit (War Crimes Commission) exclusively tasked with investigating serious international crimes. The unit employs 13 investigators and two analysts.[40] The analysts provide investigators with relevant contextual information and advise them on witness questioning.[41] The War Crimes Commission cooperates closely with two officers from the intelligence division of the Swedish police who focus on grave international crimes.[42]

The Swedish prosecution authority also has a specialized war crimes unit (“war crimes prosecutor team”). This unit employs eight prosecutors, four of whom work full-time on these cases. The rest divide their time between the unit’s work and regular criminal cases.[43] Prosecutors in this unit lead the investigations for serious international crimes and work closely with the War Crimes Commission.[44] They generally do not need judicial authorization to open formal investigations, as might be the case in some other countries, thereby expediting the process.[45]

 

Both the War Crimes Commission and war crimes prosecutor team work closely with their Swedish counterterrorism counterparts, and have systems in place to regularly exchange information.[46]

The Migration Agency processes asylum applications in Sweden. It employs over 8,000 persons and is composed of 50 units, each with 30 staff members, situated across Sweden.[47] The agency’s work is divided among six geographical regions in Sweden.[48] Specialists in each region are trained to support regular staff on cases in which article 1F, the exclusion clause of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”), is being considered to deny refugee status, including due to the possible commission of grave crimes.[49] When such cases arise, these specialists advise case workers throughout the refugee status determination process.[50] The large number of Syrians seeking asylum in Sweden between 2014 and 2016 prompted the Migration Agency to increase the number of these experts from 20 to 35.[51]

In addition, one unit within the Migration Agency provides the organization contextual information related to specific countries and addresses country-specific questions arising from individual cases.[52]

Under Swedish law, the agency must report information on potential serious international crimes it comes across to the War Crimes Commission.[53] Human Rights Watch research showed that while the agency regularly shares information on particular asylum seekers who may be implicated in serious international crimes to the commission, it has not yet been able to do the same with respect to potential victims or witnesses of abuses.[54] When an article 1F determination case is concluded, the agency’s Department of Legal Affairs signs off on what the individual regional office can share with the War Crimes Commission.[55]

In January 2016, the Swedish law enforcement, prosecution and migration services reached an agreement to enhance their cooperation. Representatives from these three authorities now meet regularly to discuss how to improve working methods and exchange of information, including related to potential war crimes cases.[56]

Germany

The federal police have a specialized unit called the Central Unit for the Fight against War Crimes and Further Offenses pursuant to the Code of Crimes against International Law (Zentralstelle für die Bekämpfung von Kriegsverbrechen und weiteren Straftaten nach dem Völkerstrafgesetzbuch, hereinafter ZBKV).[57]

The ZBKV employs 13 police officers. While it does not employ analysts, police officers in this unit are increasingly doing more of the work traditionally done by police analysts. The unit routinely works with translators, researchers, and technical support staff provided by the federal police, as well as with external consultants. The ZBKV also has contact points at the state police in each of the 16 German states.[58]

The federal prosecution authority also has a specialized war crimes unit (“war crimes prosecution unit”) tasked with prosecuting grave international crimes under the CCAIL. The unit employs seven full-time prosecutors, including four women. The unit recently hired more female prosecutors to respond to the growing need to work with female victims of sexual violence.[59]

Similar to Sweden, the war crimes units within the law enforcement and prosecution services in Germany have counterterrorism counterparts. The war crimes and counterterrorism units often work together and have institutionalized meetings and information sharing processes in place.[60]

The German migration authority (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, hereinafter BAMF) processes asylum applications at 40 immigration centers across Germany. It has a specialized section (division 235), which acts as the focal point for collaboration with security authorities at the federal and state level, including the ZBKV and its terrorism counterpart. This collaboration includes sharing information related to potential grave international crimes. At the time of writing, division 235 employed 29 people. The BAMF also has a section tasked with deciding on article 1F exclusion cases (division 233), which can gather information relevant to determining these cases from division 235.[61]

The BAMF employs country experts who are based in the agency’s headquarters in Nuremberg, but also convenes trainings on specific country situations for immigration officials in the rest of the country. The agency also has analytical research units which draft country reports that are available to all BAMF staff.[62]

Between 2014 and 2016, the BAMF increased its overall staff from 2,000 to 9,000 to respond to the large numbers of asylum seekers in Germany. This expansion led to an overall agency restructuring, including by doubling the number of immigration centers.[63]

German criminal procedure and asylum law regulate the exchange of information between the BAMF and police.[64] Unlike its Swedish counterpart, the BAMF shares information concerning potential perpetrators as well as possible witnesses, victims and general leads. If during an asylum interview an immigration case worker comes across information relevant to crimes under the CCAIL, he or she sends it to division 235.[65] Division 235 then shares such information with the ZBKV, which analyzes it and may ask division 235 specific follow-up inquiries before sending it to the war crimes prosecution unit for further action.[66]

III.Proceedings in Sweden and Germany

At the time of writing, Swedish authorities were conducting a structural investigation into serious international crimes committed in Syria. Structural investigations are broad preliminary investigations, without specific suspects, designed to gather evidence related to potential crimes which can be used in future criminal proceedings in Sweden or elsewhere.[67] Such investigations allow authorities to collect evidence in real-time or soon after the events as opposed to years later, and have the potential to advance efforts to ensure accountability for grave international crimes in national jurisdictions. Authorities in Sweden were also conducting 13 investigations against specific individuals for crimes in Syria.[68]

German authorities were the first in Europe to open a structural investigation related to Syria, and at the time of writing were conducting two such investigations. The first, initiated in September 2011, covers crimes committed by different parties to the Syrian conflict, but includes a particular focus on the Caesar photographs. The second structural investigation, initiated in August 2014, covers crimes committed by ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, with a focus on the ISIS attack on the Yezidi minority in Sinjar, Iraq, in August 2014.[69] In addition to these structural investigations, German authorities are conducting 27 investigations against specific individuals for grave crimes committed in Syria and Iraq.[70]

To date, only seven cases related to serious international crimes committed in Syria (three in Sweden and four in Germany) have reached the trial phase. Of these, five were brought under universal jurisdiction and two under the active personality principle.[71]

ONGOING AND COMPLETED CASES FOR GRAVE CRIMES IN SYRIA [72]

ACCUSED[73]

BASIS OF JURISDICTION

ALLEGED CRIMES AND CHARGES

CASE STATUS

Sweden

Mouhannad Droubi (Syrian non-state armed group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army)

Universal jurisdiction

Assaulted a member of another non-state armed group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army – War crimes and aggravated assault[74]

Sentenced to 8 years in prison by court of appeal on August 5, 2016[75]

Haisam Omar Sakhanh (Syrian non-state armed group opposed to the government)

Universal jurisdiction

Extrajudicially executed seven Syrian army soldiers – War crimes[76]

Sentenced to life in prison on February 16, 2017; confirmed by court of appeal on May 31, 2017[77]

Mohammad Abdullah (Syrian army)

Universal jurisdiction

Violated the dignity of five dead or severely injured people by posing for a photograph with his foot on one of the victims’ chest – War crimes[78]

Sentenced to 8 months in prison on September 25, 2017[79]

Germany

Aria L. (ISIS)

Active personality principle – Perpetrator is a German national

Desecrated two corpses – War crimes[80]

Sentenced to 2 years in prison on July 12, 2016[81]

Abdelkarim El. B. (ISIS)

Active personality principle – Perpetrator is a German national

Desecrated a corpse – War crimes, membership in a terrorist organization, and violation of the Military Weapons Control [82]

Sentenced to 8.5 years in prison on November 8, 2016[83]

Suliman A.S. (alleged Jabhat al-Nusra)[84]

Universal jurisdiction

Kidnapped a UN observer – Aiding a war crime[85]

Sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on September 20, 2017[86]

Ibrahim Al F. (Free Syrian Army)

Universal jurisdiction

Allegedly oversaw torture, abduction, and personally tortured several people who resisted the looting of their belongings – War crimes[87]

Trial started on May 22, 2017[88]

To date, the cases brought to trial are not representative of the crimes in Syria. The war crimes cases that have gone to trial have nearly all been prosecutions of fighters from the Free Syrian Army and other non-state armed groups opposed to the government, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, while one case was brought against a low-level member of the Syrian army. Further, most Syria-related cases in Germany involve prosecution for terrorism offenses rather than charges for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Case Selection Concerns

As previously discussed, Swedish and German authorities are investigating potential crimes committed in Syria by different parties to the conflict, including the Syrian government.[89] However, at the time of writing, nearly all the Syria-related trials for serious international crimes in these countries had been against low-level members of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army or other non-state armed groups opposed to the Syrian government and one has been against a low-level member of the Syrian army. This case focus may also reflect the fact that curbing ISIS’s influence and deterring their own nationals from joining it are national security priorities for Germany and Sweden.

Syrians expressed frustration about the lack of cases brought against individuals affiliated with the Syrian government. “Europe is concentrating on ISIS and forgetting Assad; ISIS is a spot in the sea of Assad’s crimes,” one Syrian in Germany said.[90]

For some refugees, the frustration is personal: 22 of the Syrians Human Rights Watch interviewed in Sweden and Germany said they were direct victims of crimes committed by the Syrian government. Some said they believed some of the perpetrators were living in Sweden and Germany.[91] Abdou, who said he was among those directly victimized by the Syrian government, explained:

Germans are treating Syrians the wrong way. They see us as a mass without distinction, they’re not paying attention as to what they [Syrian government forces] have done. Germans should understand who is who.[92]

Although Swedish and German authorities are investigating crimes committed by government forces, the publicly available information about these efforts is limited and does not necessarily reflect the breadth of the ongoing probes.

According to practitioners and academics, cases against mid and high-level government officials or military commanders are more difficult to build from an evidentiary perspective than those brought to trial so far. Prosecutions against these individuals require strong evidence to connect the crimes committed to the alleged perpetrators, and evidence to place them within the chain of command.[93]

While all the accused in the cases brought to trial to date were arrested in Sweden and Germany, high-level officials or senior military commanders affiliated with the Syrian government have not yet travelled to these countries and are unlikely to travel to Europe in the near future. In addition, some could be temporarily protected from timely prosecution as a result of the official positions they hold.[94]

Human Rights Watch found that the fact that these cases are not representative of the breadth of the atrocities committed in Syria has the potential to undercut Syrian refugees’ perspectives about the proceedings and their confidence in these efforts to deliver some form of justice.

Reliance on Terrorism Charges

The type of charges upon which cases are brought further impact how representative these proceedings are overall. While this does not seem to be an issue in Sweden yet,[95] Germany has experienced a problematic proliferation of cases where the offenses charged are those available under terrorism laws, even when it is likely the suspect committed a war crime or crime against humanity.[96]

The legal framework for terrorism in Germany is broad. The German Criminal Code penalizes the acts of membership in, support of, and recruitment for a terrorist organization and judges can in each case determine whether an organization qualifies as terrorist or not.[97] Recent provisions have also been added to penalize the act of financing a terrorist organization and traveling outside Germany with the intent to receive terrorist training.[98]

According to practitioners interviewed in Germany, it is often easier to find evidence to prove that an individual is a member of a terrorist organization than to link such individual to any underlying serious criminal act.[99]

When it is possible to bring someone to trial for both serious international crimes and terrorism, and there is insufficient evidence for a serious international crime prosecution, authorities will charge the suspect with terrorism-related offenses rather than release them from custody.[100]

There are costs, however, to prosecuting individuals solely on terrorism charges, when they may also be responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity. In Germany, serious international crimes are punished with longer prison sentences than those usually prescribed for terrorism offenses.[101] In addition, terrorism charges often do not reflect the scope and nature of abuses committed, and risk undermining efforts to promote compliance with international humanitarian law. The use of terrorism charges as means of investigating and prosecuting individuals believed to be responsible for war crimes could send a signal that the authorities’ rightful determination to tackle domestic threats eclipses their responsibility to deliver accountability for other serious international crimes. The use of terrorism charges also risks diverting police and prosecutorial resources earmarked for international justice to already well-resourced domestic national security efforts.

The German public prosecutor general stated that situations like those in Syria and Iraq show that terrorism and other serious international crimes are increasingly intertwined as terrorist organizations are new actors in these conflicts. He explained that to fully register the unlawfulness of these acts and provide appropriate retribution, international criminal law must not be neglected.[102] Referring to Syria he noted:

[T]he character of the terrorist organizations involved in the conflict, as well as the nature of the specific single acts, can only be fully grasped if they are viewed not only through the lens of counterterrorism, but also viewed in the context of international criminal law.[103]

IV.Challenges

Swedish and German authorities have encountered several challenges in their efforts to investigate and prosecute grave abuses committed in Syria. Their experiences provide valuable lessons domestically, and for other countries in Europe and elsewhere set to take up cases involving serious international crimes in Syria.

Some of these challenges are inherent to accountability efforts for international crimes at the domestic level. Others are specific to Syria-related cases and are tied to information gathering efforts both within and outside Sweden and Germany. While some of these obstacles are difficult to overcome, authorities are already taking steps to address others.

The combination of these inherent and situation-specific challenges likely impacts both the number and the type of cases brought to trial to date in each of these countries, as well as the way Syrian refugees perceive these justice efforts and contribute to them.

Standard Challenges

Authorities pursuing cases on the basis of universal jurisdiction encounter challenges that are inherent to these types of cases. Solutions to some of these challenges are beyond the reach of authorities.

Domestic prosecutions for serious international crimes are opportunistic efforts, usually brought against people present in the territory of the prosecuting country—as is the case with the cases brought to trial to date in Germany and Sweden.

Case Profile: Haisam Omar Sakhanh

In September 2013, the New York Times released a video showing members of a Syrian non-state armed group opposed to the government extrajudicially executing seven captured Syrian government soldiers in Idlib governorate on May 6, 2012. The video was smuggled out of Syria a few days earlier by a former fighter who sent it to the New York Times. One of the fighters in the video was Haisam Omar Sakhanh.

In February 2012, Sakhanh was arrested in Italy, where he had been a permanent resident since 1999, in relation to a demonstration at the Syrian embassy in Rome. He was later released and decided to return to Syria.

In 2013, Sakhanh travelled to Sweden where he applied for asylum. During his asylum interview, he failed to disclose information about his arrest in Italy. This omission triggered an investigation that eventually linked him to the New York Times video.

Sakhanh was arrested in Sweden in 2016 and charged for his part in the killing of the seven government soldiers as a “crime against international law.” 

His trial took place in the Stockholm District Court between January 11- 23, 2017. While Sakhanh admitted to the shooting, he said he was merely carrying out the decision of an opposition court, which ordered the execution of the soldiers. He failed to produce any evidence to substantiate that claim.

On February 16, 2017, the Stockholm District Court convicted Sakhanh and sentenced him to life in prison. While the Swedish judges found that non-state actors can establish courts, in this case they held that such a court was neither independent nor impartial and did not offer the legal guarantees of a fair trial. The judgment and sentence were confirmed by the Svea Appeal Court on May 31, 2017.

Immunity for sitting government officials can represent an additional obstacle to prosecuting certain individuals implicated in serious international crimes. According to this principle, certain foreign government officials, such as accredited diplomats, heads of state and government, and foreign ministers are entitled to temporary immunity from prosecution by foreign states while they hold their positions, even for serious international crimes. The immunity ceases once the person leaves office and should not bar later prosecutions.[104] Both Sweden and Germany recognize this principle and have incorporated it in their domestic laws.[105]

Other typical challenges can be tackled by domestic authorities, who, if provided with adequate resources, would be in a better position to take steps to try to overcome them.

For example, criminal cases for serious international crimes are complex and require more time and resources than regular criminal cases, placing special demands on and requiring special expertise from police, prosecutors, defense and victims’ counsel and courts. Gathering evidence—most often from victims and witnesses to the actual crimes—usually requires traveling to the country where the violations occurred. This presents a range of challenges, including linguistic and cultural barriers and possible resistance from national authorities. These cases also usually touch on offenses and modes of liability that are unfamiliar to domestic investigators and prosecutors.

The experience of a number of European countries indicates that specialized war crimes units, trainings for practitioners involved in these types of cases, and adequate resources for investigative and prosecutorial efforts have proven effective in overcoming these challenges.[106]

Syria-Specific Challenges

In addition to these standard challenges, the overarching difficulty for authorities working on cases related to Syria is operating amid an ongoing conflict, with no access to locations where crimes were committed. This obliges authorities to look elsewhere for relevant information to build cases.

In addition to publicly available platforms, such as social media, there are three main sources of such information: Syrian refugees and asylum seekers present on the territories of countries engaged in these investigations; other governments and intergovernmental entities; and various nongovernmental documentation groups working beyond their borders.

Domestic Information Gathering

Sweden and Germany are in different phases of information gathering at the domestic level. While Swedish investigators are encountering difficulties collecting information from Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, their German counterparts are struggling to filter the large amount of information they are receiving from various sources.

The first three Syria-related trials for grave international crimes completed in Sweden were not part of a strategic investigative effort, but rather based on incriminating photographs and videos which were used by the war crimes prosecutor team to build these cases.[107] In addition to this photographic and video evidence, Swedish prosecutors relied mainly on expert witnesses to clarify controversial legal issues or to provide contextual information on the situation in Syria at the time of the crimes.[108]

Swedish authorities are now trying to develop a more defined prosecutorial strategy building on information collected as part of their structural investigation. In this context, investigators have started to reach out to Syrian refugees living in Sweden but told Human Rights Watch that they face difficulties finding individuals willing to testify in court.[109]

One practitioner explained that, to achieve a more strategic approach, Swedish investigators and prosecutors need “hard facts and people willing to come forward” to build cases for serious crimes committed in Syria.[110] Two other practitioners recognized the importance of leads for these investigations, but told Human Rights Watch that authorities still need eye witnesses, regardless of other information that may be brought to their attention.[111]

German authorities are facing a different challenge: a large amount of general, unfiltered, and often unsolicited information from different sources. This means that investigators must filter this information first, before turning their attention to more strategic outreach efforts.

As of June 2017, the ZBKV had received about 4,100 tips (2,760 related to Syria), some of which eventually led to 27 targeted investigations against individuals for crimes committed in Syria and Iraq.[112] Interlocutors explained that the ZBKV has been flooded with information from different sources, including the BAMF and the general public. The latter often directs investigators to potential leads on social media.[113] All this information needs to be checked and, according to one practitioner, the large number of tips makes discerning the veracity of information difficult, in part because much time and resources are needed to sift through the information for lines of inquiry relevant to their ongoing investigative efforts, as well as to identify witnesses with first-hand knowledge of the crimes.[114] One practitioner described this process as akin to a mini preliminary investigation.[115]

Against this background, Syrian refugees in Sweden and Germany can play an important role in supporting the authorities in their efforts. However, investigators and prosecutors in both countries are encountering difficulties in their engagement with refugees, mainly due to mistrust on the part of asylum seekers and refugees towards authorities, fear, and a general lack of awareness.

Mistrust

Syrian refugees told Human Rights Watch they often do not trust the police and other officials due to negative experiences with authorities in their home country.[116] Ahmad, who lives in Sweden, said:

We are used to looking at the police or the government as a threat. If you have a right you want to follow in Syria you prefer not to, because the police will try to take money from you. No trust. Even in Sweden, if I see a policeman I don’t feel normal. We don’t look at the police and the government as someone we can trust.[117]

Other refugees said this mistrust also stems from their perception that the Swedish and German governments support the Syrian government and are indifferent toward ordinary Syrians’ suffering, despite the fact that the two countries host far larger numbers of Syrians than most other EU countries.[118] Ibrahim, who lives in Germany, said:

The general atmosphere here is against you. You don’t feel like someone would really care about you.[119]

As such, some interlocutors said authorities in both countries needed to be particularly sensitive in their engagement with refugees given their experiences, including crimes they might have suffered firsthand or witnessed. Refugees Human Rights Watch spoke to described a depersonalized asylum process and reported negative experiences interacting with immigration officials in particular. One refugee said:

When you’re treated like a number and no one is listening, it makes you uncomfortable to share sensitive, personal information […] I’m not just a victim or only a refugee […] You feel violated from the first second you are here.[120]

Fear of Reprisals

Many refugees Human Rights Watch spoke to in Sweden and Germany still had family and friends in Syria, making it difficult for authorities to find individuals willing to publicly testify about any crimes they might have suffered or witnessed.

Several refugees interviewed in Sweden told Human Rights Watch that they would be willing to cooperate generally with authorities, but are reluctant to appear in open court or provide named testimony because they are afraid for the safety of their families back in Syria.[121] One refugee explained he would not testify publicly because he believed ISIS and the Syrian government were active in Sweden.[122] Swedish law does not allow the use of anonymous witnesses in criminal trials, although there is scope for more limited witness protection measures.[123]

Similar concerns were raised in interviews conducted in Germany. In addition to concerns over the safety of families in Syria, some refugees said that they were also personally afraid because they believed Syrians affiliated with the government and now living in Europe could harm them.[124] German law allows for the identity of witnesses to be concealed in limited circumstances (for example, victims of sexual violence).[125] However, anonymity is rarely used because such testimony can only be given limited weight, and prosecutors therefore see it as a last resort.[126]

Lack of Awareness

Human Rights Watch research also revealed a general lack of awareness among Syrian refugees about serious international crimes proceedings. This included:

  • Lack of knowledge of the legal systems in place and the possibility for Syrian refugees to contribute to justice efforts;
  • Lack of knowledge of victims’ right to participate in criminal proceedings; and
  • Lack of knowledge about the ongoing cases.
Legal System

Syrian refugees’ willingness (and ability) to share information with authorities may be impacted by their lack of knowledge of the mandates and work of immigration authorities, law enforcement, prosecutorial services and how they interact with each other.

This is particularly true in relation to the delicate issue of immigration status. If immigration authorities do not make clear to asylum applicants their mandate and the distinction between the asylum process and criminal investigations, Syrian asylum seekers may be reluctant to share information for fear it may impact their claims for protection.

According to several Syrian refugees in both countries, asylum seekers often deny having witnessed or being victims of crimes during their asylum interview because they believe such disclosure will negatively affect the ultimate decision on their status.[127] Raslan said he was reluctant to share information during his asylum interview:

I didn’t ask too much and didn’t say too much. I was afraid for my papers, for myself and for my family back in Syria. […] I didn’t say I saw something in Syria, even if I did.[128]

Two interviewees in Sweden said that many asylum seekers in the country appeared to believe they would be better placed to attribute their flight from Syria to ISIS during asylum interviews even if they fled from government forces or from other armed groups. This belief appeared to be based on the assumption that citing ISIS would more likely result in a positive status determination because of the group’s bad international reputation.[129]

Similar stories also circulated among asylum seekers in Germany. Some interviewees were told by other refugees not to mention any crimes they might have suffered at the hands of Syrian government forces because it would “complicate” their asylum process.[130]

None of the Syrian refugees Human Rights Watch interviewed in Sweden and Germany said they were told they had a right to report to the police when they disclosed to the immigration officials information about crimes they were victims of or witnessed. Fifteen interviewees who shared this information with the immigration authorities told Human Rights Watch that they did not know that they could also share it with the police and how to go about doing that.[131]

Ibrahim complained about the lack of information available on how to contact the competent authorities: “Why don’t they tell us? I don’t know where to go if I want to say something.”[132]

Victims’ Right to Participate in Proceedings

Under Swedish law, victims have the right to initiate criminal proceedings or participate as civil parties in cases initiated by prosecutors. They are entitled to free legal representation.[133]  Under German law, victims of specific crimes can join proceedings as “private accessory prosecutors” and have a right to free legal counsel, which is automatically appointed.[134]

None of the refugees interviewed were informed of their right to participate in legal proceedings during or after the asylum process.[135] Ayman filed a criminal complaint as part of a group of victims with the German prosecutors against some senior Syrian officials.[136] He told Human Rights Watch that he only learned about the possibility of such action after speaking with one of his Syrian friends who is a lawyer.[137]

Ongoing Cases

The majority of the Syrian refugees Human Rights Watch interviewed in Sweden and Germany either had no knowledge about the criminal proceedings taking place in their host country, or limited (and often incorrect) information.[138] Those who had some accurate information about these proceedings reported learning it from the Facebook pages of Syrian activists.[139] Some said they wanted to receive more information about these and potential future cases from official sources, preferably in Arabic.[140] They cited social media, and Facebook in particular, as effective platforms to publicize any updates about the cases.

The Syrian crisis is distinct from other situations Swedish and German investigators and prosecutors have worked on in the past. The large presence of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers on their territories and the important role they can play gives rise to new demands on the authorities to effectively engage with these affected communities.

Trials in Sweden and Germany are not videotaped or televised, but they are usually open to the general public and media.[141] The proceedings are conducted in Swedish and German, and in the Syria prosecutions that have gone forward Arabic translation is provided to the defendant. Information on the proceedings (usually in relation to an arrest, the beginning of a trial or a judgment) is sometimes published on the websites of the prosecutors and the police, but is only available in Swedish or German.[142] Judgments and other relevant court documents are also only available in Swedish and German. German prosecutors are also seeking the translation of interlocutory—that is provisional—decisions as well as judgments into the languages relevant to particular cases.[143]

In February 2017, Swedish prosecutors organized a press conference to discuss two recent judgments (one related to Syria) and to explain the work of the war crimes prosecutor team.[144] Prosecutors in Germany usually hold a press conference once a trial is over and convene a press conference once a year to discuss their work overall.[145] While these initiatives are valuable and show openness on the part of authorities, they are only held in Swedish and German and do not involve proactive engagement with affected communities.

Swedish and German media have not systematically covered the most recent Syria-related cases.[146] Practitioners in Sweden noted that journalists usually reach out to investigators and prosecutors when there is a new case but there is generally no interest in covering the proceedings afterwards.[147] What coverage exists is also only available in Swedish and German. Syrian refugees in Sweden told Human Rights Watch that there is no Arabic-speaking media outlet that they trust to deliver this kind of information.[148]

Interviewees in both countries said the press does not seem interested in these cases and some attributed this to the public’s fatigue about Syria-related news, strong interest in national security issues and ISIS, as well as a lack of understanding about legal concepts such as war crimes.[149]

Impact of Limited Outreach on Syrian Refugees

Inadequate outreach to affected communities in Sweden and Germany can have direct impact on the success of accountability efforts in relation to serious international crimes committed in Syria. Fear and mistrust on the part of Syrians in Sweden and Germany inhibits their willingness to share potentially probative information with the authorities. Lack of awareness and understanding of the proceedings and systems in place further fuels these attitudes and likely prevents Syrians from fully understanding these justice efforts and being able to contribute to them.

Abdou, who said he was a victim of crimes perpetrated by the Syrian government and now lives in Germany, said that “Germans didn’t open doors for this community to be involved in these procedures in general.”[150]

On the other hand, knowledge of these proceedings and how to contribute to them might provide Syrians in Sweden and Germany with a sense of justice and allow them to feel like stakeholders in these efforts and could potentially also help integrate them into society. Samira, who lives in Sweden, explained that she has information she wants to share about crimes she witnessed in Syria, but did not know she could:

No one hears my voice, no one told me I could talk. I would love to share information, to see the truth and show how much we have suffered.[151]

At the same time, Syrian refugees sometimes expressed to Human Rights Watch unrealistic expectations about how they might contribute to the prosecution of serious international crimes and the outcome of these cases. Their skewed expectations at times stemmed from a lack of familiarity about the legal systems in place and the limitations of these proceedings.

Because of the constraints of their mandates and resources, domestic authorities often cannot utilize the information Syrian refugees provide to build cases. Despite a willingness of some Syrians who have witnessed and/or documented serious crimes to share information with authorities,[152] the information often does not relate to events within their jurisdiction or meet the evidentiary threshold required for criminal prosecutions in Sweden and Germany.

In addition and as outlined above, cases brought before domestic courts for crimes committed abroad often depend on the physical presence of suspects and the availability of evidence. In the context of the ongoing conflict in Syria, it is unlikely that senior government officials or military commanders will travel to Europe in the near future, reducing the likelihood of cases being brought against mid to high-level individuals affiliated with the government.

But these constraints are not necessarily apparent or communicated to Syrian communities in Sweden and Germany, causing frustration and a loss of faith in the authorities. Hakim, a journalist detained by the Syrian government, said: “Most people who want the regime on trial lost hope.”[153]

Regional and International Information Gathering

Swedish and German authorities are also looking outside of their borders to gather information relevant to their efforts to bring justice for grave crimes committed in Syria. While the European Union offers platforms to facilitate the exchange of information between its member states, cooperation with countries outside the EU is more difficult. Nongovernmental organizations, as well as UN bodies, are also playing an increasingly important role in documenting abuses committed in Syria. Investigators and prosecutors are looking for better ways to interact and cooperate with these entities.

Countries in Europe

Swedish and German authorities reported effective cooperation at the European level due to protocols that allow for the swift exchange of information.[154]

Prosecutors and investigators from both countries also regularly attend meetings of the “Network of Contact Points in Respect of Persons Responsible for Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes” (EU Genocide Network), hosted by Eurojust.[155] Eurojust is the EU's judicial cooperation agency and is mandated to support and strengthen coordination and cooperation between national investigating and prosecuting authorities within the EU in relation to serious crimes.

The EU Genocide Network organizes bi-annual meetings in which investigators and prosecutors from each EU member state, as well as from Norway, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States, exchange information and share experiences and working methods.[156] It provides a forum specifically mandated to facilitate cooperation and knowledge sharing in the EU in the field of grave international crimes.

Civil society is invited to participate for part of the meeting, and the remainder is conducted in closed session so that practitioners can exchange information on specific cases in a confidential setting. According to officials, these meetings have greatly helped foster bilateral relationships that have proved significant to their work and specific cases, including in relation to Syria.[157]

Separately, Germany is also working with other European countries, the Netherlands in particular, to establish a central database for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide within Europol, the EU agency for law enforcement and cooperation among member states.[158] According to one practitioner, this secure database will optimize the investigative efforts of national authorities, including the secure exchange of information between the existing police war crimes units in Europe.[159]

Considering the important role immigration authorities play in the identification of potential suspects of serious international crimes, Human Rights Watch has advocated for the creation of a European network of focal points for exclusion cases, including those related to article 1F of the Refugee Convention.[160] This recommendation appears to have been realized, as of February 2017, with the European Asylum Support Office’s launching of the Exclusion Network, which brings together member states’ focal points, EU authorities, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees to cooperate on matters relating to exclusion from international protection.[161]

As noted above, when governments consider whether to deport people excluded from refugee status based on serious reasons for considering them to have committed grave offenses, governments also have to consider whether their removal might expose them to torture, unfair trials, or other improper or inhuman treatment—and, as a result, whether deportation is barred under international law or if it would be more appropriate to hold them accountable in a jurisdiction where they would receive fair procedures and proper treatment.

Countries neighboring Syria

Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan host the largest number of Syrian refugees worldwide.[162] As a result, a significant pool of potential victims and witnesses of serious international crimes committed in Syria can be found there.[163] However, cooperation with these countries is difficult because there is no framework similar to that in Europe for the quick exchange of information. According to some practitioners and government officials in Sweden and Germany, requests from European investigators and prosecutors for information from these countries (known as requests for mutual legal assistance) can be burdensome and time-consuming depending on the bilateral agreements between the interested counties.[164]

Swedish and German officials reported that they have had limited or no contact with authorities in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan because of the difficulties involved. In addition, such cooperation has been largely unnecessary for the investigations undertaken so far.[165] In one exception, Swedish authorities sought to interview a victim, who was discovered in Turkey by a Swedish journalist.[166] While the request for mutual legal assistance in the case was submitted in May 2015, the interview was not conducted until January 2016.[167] According to some practitioners, Germany has not yet submitted cooperation requests to any of these countries in relation to their current work on Syria.[168]

Other Actors

National investigators and prosecutors often use reports from international NGOs and other groups or entities for background information or for generating initial leads. However, defense lawyers point out that it is problematic if judges are willing to accept such reports to establish facts at trial, even as background, when the defense has no opportunity to effectively challenge the information in such reports, or question the authors. Courts in Sweden have accepted NGO reports as credible and admissible in court as background evidence.[169]

According to one practitioner in Sweden, the excessive reliance of Swedish prosecutors on these kind of reports in the first two Syria-related war crimes cases lead to a de facto lowering of the evidentiary threshold because these reports do not contain information collected according to criminal procedural standards.[170] One practitioner in Germany also said that judges tend to blindly rely on these reports because of their unfamiliarity with the cultural and political context of the countries in which the crimes allegedly took place.[171]

Authorities are facing similar difficulties with information available in UN Commission of Inquiry reports. Given that the commission is not a prosecutorial mechanism, to make a finding, it requires “reasonable grounds to believe” that the events it investigates occurred as described.[172] This threshold is lower than what is required by domestic criminal procedure.

Practitioners in Sweden said that cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry has also proved difficult due to the commission’s strict disclosure protocols and its limited staff.[173] According to commission staff, the Syria Commission of Inquiry is mandated with human rights investigations and therefore does not have adequate information management systems to support criminal investigations or sufficient staff to dedicate to cooperation with national authorities.[174] In addition, information requests from national authorities often pertain to specific individuals or events that were not the subject of the commission’s investigations, often because national investigations focused on individuals or victims who happen to fall within their national jurisdiction, rather than individuals involved in directing or ordering high profile incidents documented in commission reports. Another hurdle involved the lack of consent from sources to share information within the possession of the commission with such jurisdictions.[175]

Nonetheless, authorities in both Sweden and Germany believe the commission could play an important role in providing relevant information for Syria-related investigations and prosecutions in these countries. One practitioner recommended a contact point within the Swedish War Crimes Commission be dedicated to cooperation issues with the Syria Commission of Inquiry.[176] In the meantime, German officials are sharing experiences with other national authorities to improve and streamline overall cooperation with the Syria Commission of Inquiry.[177]

The new UN General Assembly established investigative mechanism for Syria could also become an important source of information for domestic authorities. The mechanism has a two-pronged mandate:

  1. to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses; and
  2. to prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law.[178]

Since the mechanism is not yet operational, it is still too early to determine how this would work in practice. However, Swedish and German authorities have shown interest in cooperating with the mechanism.

Efforts to Address Challenges

Sweden and Germany are taking active steps to address some of the challenges outlined above.

Skills Training and Legal Education

The investigation and prosecution of grave international crimes require specific skills and knowledge. Prosecutors must be able to prove contextual elements that are specific to these kinds of offenses (for example, the existence of a conflict or a widespread and systematic violation against a civilian population) as well as link the alleged perpetrators to atrocities that might have been committed by their subordinates. In addition, these crimes are usually committed against a large number of victims outside the territory of the prosecuting country.

Swedish and German authorities are working toward addressing these challenges. However, certain issues have not yet been addressed and require further consideration.

Sweden

Swedish police within the War Crimes Commission are not specifically trained to investigate serious international crimes and mainly “learn by doing,” though at least one investigator and one analyst have had previous experience with these types of investigations working for international organizations.[179]

However, because of the decentralized structure of the Swedish police, any police station in the country could receive important information on serious international crimes (committed in Syria or elsewhere) and must be prepared to recognize and process it accordingly. To better equip regular police officers, the commission prepared guidelines and made them available on the internal police website to support officers to handle reports involving suspected war crimes.[180]

Swedish prosecutors in the war crimes prosecutor team have developed an internal training strategy by pairing a prosecutor with previous experience in serious international crimes cases with those new to these types of prosecutions.[181]

Sweden has a decentralized judicial system and serious international crimes cases could potentially be argued in courts anywhere in the country.[182] However, if there are reasons for it (for example, if many witnesses have to be flown to Sweden), prosecutors can ask the Ministry of Justice to move a case to a specific court.[183] In practice, prosecutors normally request that any serious international crimes cases be referred to the Stockholm District Court, which has informally developed some form of specialization to handle these types of cases.[184] Nonetheless, some interlocutors said that Swedish judges would benefit from training opportunities in international criminal law.[185]

With some exceptions, lawyers representing victims and defendants in Sweden are often appointed to work on complex international criminal cases without having any previous exposure to international criminal law.[186] Practitioners suggested that trainings should be provided by the Swedish Bar Association for lawyers wishing to work on these cases.[187]

Germany

In Germany, the ZBKV holds a one-week war crimes training session every year, open to other officers from the federal police and the state police. At time of writing, it was planning to add a specific workshop on how to work with victims of serious international crimes.[188]

ZBKV members also regularly attend trainings organized by Interpol.[189] In addition, the ZBKV has an ongoing shadowing program with colleagues from other war crimes units in Europe in which German investigators accompany colleagues from other countries in their daily work for a period of time to compare work and share best practices.[190] BAMF officials also attend trainings, seminars, and meetings with NGOs organized by the federal police.[191]

The Office of the Federal Prosecutor General consists of both federal prosecutors (generally more experienced) as well as seconded state prosecutors (usually younger and less experienced). The latter serve a three-year term at the Office of the Federal Prosecutor General before going back to their state. At time of writing, the prosecution war crimes unit employed three seconded state prosecutors: two working full-time on serious crimes prosecutions and one dividing time between the unit and other federal prosecutions.[192]

Whenever the term of the seconded prosecutors is over, they are replaced by new state prosecutors who serve the war crimes unit for three years. This system allows for the knowledge of the investigation and prosecution of international criminal law cases to be spread within the prosecutorial offices in Germany and for potential vacant positions of permanent members of the war crimes unit to be filled by someone with previous experience in the unit.[193] Several prosecutors of the war crimes unit have also had academic experience in international criminal law and/or practical experience in international criminal courts and tribunals.[194]

War crime cases in Germany are exclusively tried before the higher regional courts, serving as courts of first instance at the federal level for serious international crimes.[195] Judges in these courts are not specifically trained in international criminal law. However, a particular higher regional court may develop expertise in this field after hearing several cases concerning serious international crimes.[196] Prosecutors of the war crimes unit organize regular training workshops for judges sitting in these courts on international criminal law.[197]

Germany has a long-standing tradition of academic focus on international criminal law. Several interviewees in Germany felt that the lawyers working on these cases as defense or victims’ counsels had an adequate knowledge of this specific area of law because of their academic training, as well as their accumulated experience with these types of cases.[198]

Country Expertise

National investigators and prosecutors may work simultaneously on different cases pertaining to a wide variety of countries. With limited resources at their disposal, they cannot become experts on all these situations. However, it is important to ensure a baseline of knowledge sufficient to allow them to effectively investigate and prosecute crimes committed in a specific context.

The specialized war crimes units within the police in Sweden and Germany are slowly building expertise on Syria, although more needs to be done given the growing number of investigations into the conflict. Swedish investigators are encountering difficulties identifying potential victims and witnesses among Syrian refugees in their territory and engaging with them partly due to language barriers as well as limited knowledge about Syria. At the time of writing, the Swedish War Crimes Commission had one investigator and one analyst who spoke Arabic, and one of them is unofficially regarded as a Syria expert.[199] They work with ad hoc translators.[200] In Germany, the federal police has Syria experts with whom the ZBKV works closely.[201]

Improving Outreach Efforts

Authorities in Sweden and Germany who spoke to Human Rights Watch said they appreciated the importance of timely and effective outreach, and recognized shortcomings in this area. Practitioners Human Rights Watch interviewed attributed these shortcomings to the novelty of international criminal cases in their jurisdiction and lack of resources to conduct meaningful outreach.[202] In this regard, authorities in Germany have been in contact with representatives from international tribunals to learn from their experience with outreach programs.[203] However, some practitioners said such a system could not be replicated at the domestic level due to lack of resources and dedicated institutional structures.[204]

Two practitioners in Sweden said that they find it difficult to communicate the breadth of their work.[205] While they acknowledge that Swedish authorities could do more to popularize what they do, including explaining the system for investigating, prosecuting, and adjudicating serious international crimes works, confidentiality and security considerations limit possibilities.[206]

Despite these difficulties, Swedish and German authorities are taking steps to address the information gap and to gain the trust of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers through a series of outreach efforts.

At time of writing, for example, the War Crimes Commission in Sweden was crafting a brochure (for distribution by the Migration Agency and civil society organizations), and an electronic application to explain the commission’s work and provide potential victims and witnesses with contact information. The brochure and application were inspired by consultations between Swedish authorities, civil society organizations, and their counterparts from other countries, in particular Norway, Germany and the Netherlands.[207] The commission also has a Swedish language-only web page with information about the unit and how to contact it.[208]

In Germany, the BAMF is using an electronic application that, in addition to general information on the asylum process and how to live in Germany, includes information on how to reach the police and presents it as a trusted community partner.[209] The application does not provide contact information on how to report crimes to the ZBKV for people who might have suffered or witnessed atrocities.

The ZBKV prepared a brochure with information on the unit and how victims or witnesses of grave international crimes can contact it and the state police. This brochure is distributed to the state police and the BAMF.[210] The federal police also has a web page dedicated to the ZBKV with information on serious international crimes available in English and German.[211] The web page does not contain information on how to contact the unit.

While authorities in both Sweden and Germany are taking important steps to better engage with Syrians on their territories, there are still gaps that need to be filled. Timely and effective outreach through channels accessible to the affected communities, in a language that they can understand, may help the authorities build the trust necessary to collect relevant information while empowering victims and potential witnesses, allowing them to become active participants in these justice efforts.

V. Acknowledgments

This report was researched by Maria Elena Vignoli, fellow in the International Justice Program, and Balkees Jarrah, senior counsel in the International Justice Program. The report was written by Maria Elena Vignoli and reviewed and edited by Balkees Jarrah; Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program; Lama Fakih, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division; Benjamin Ward, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division; Bill Frelick, director of the Refugee Rights Program; Måns Molander, Sweden and Denmark director; Wenzel Michalsky, Germany director; Nadim Houry, director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism program; Aisling Reidy, senior legal advisor; Danielle Hass, senior editor; and Tom Porteous, deputy program director. Research assistance was provided by Elena Cecchini, Evan Welber, Emily Painter, and Aji Drammeh, all interns at Human Rights Watch. Editorial assistance was provided by Anjelica Jarrett, associate in the International Justice Program, and Jacob Karr, intern at Human Rights Watch. Production was provided by Madeline Cottingham, Photo & Publications Coordinator; Fitzroy Hepkins, Administrative Manager; and Jose Martinez, Senior Coordinator.

Valuable research assistance on the legal framework in Sweden and Germany was provided by Mark Klamberg, Associate Professor in International Law at Stockholm University and deputy director of the Stockholm Center for International Law and Justice; Leonie Steinl, Senior Researcher and Lecturer in Law, Humboldt University of Berlin; and Jakob Schemmel, Senior Researcher and Lecturer in Law, Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg. Feedback was provided on sections of the report by Mark Klamberg and Julia Geneuss, Senior Researcher and Lecturer in Law, Hamburg University.

Human Rights Watch would like to thank the fixers and interpreters whose invaluable assistance throughout the research made this report possible. Finally, Human Rights Watch would like to express appreciation to all those who agreed to be interviewed for this report, and in particular all the Syrians who shared with us their experiences.

[1] Syrian Network for Human Rights, homepage, http://sn4hr.org (accessed September 6, 2017); Syrian Network for Human Rights, “Cases of Arbitrary Arrest Recorded in the First Half of 2016 4557 Including 739 in June 2016,” July 6, 2016, http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/Cases_of_arbitrary_detention_in_... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[2] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2017), Syria Chapter, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/world_report_download/wr2017-web..., pp. 571-574. For more information on these and other abuses see, for example, Human Rights Watch reporting on the Syrian crisis.

[3] Ibid., pp. 571, 575-576.

[4] Ibid., pp. 571, 576.

[5] Ibid., p. 576.

[6] Ibid., p. 577-578.

[7] Human Rights Watch, If the Dead Could Speak: Mass Deaths and Torture in Syria’s Detention Facilities, December 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/16/if-dead-could-speak/mass-deaths-an....

[8] On April 15, 2014, France convened an “Arria-formula” meeting, an informal, confidential gathering of Security Council members, considering the Caesar photographs. “UN Security Council: Support Justice for Syria,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/14/un-security-council-support-justice-.... The resolution was then co-sponsored by 65 countries, including 9 members of the Security Council. Twitter post by Benjamin Cabouat, former representative for the French mission to the United Nations, May 22, 2014, https://twitter.com/bcabouat/status/469638935011155968 (accessed September 6, 2017); “Referral of Syria to International Criminal Court Fails as Negative Votes Prevent Security Council from Adopting Draft Resolution,” United Nations press release, SC/11407, May 22, 2014, https://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11407.doc.htm (accessed September 6, 2017).

[9] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), A/CONF.183/9, July 17, 1998, entered into force July 1, 2002, articles 12 and 13.

[10] UN General Assembly, “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011,” Resolution 71/248 (2017), A/RES/71/248 (2017), https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/71/
L.48 (accessed September 6, 2017).

[11] UN Security Council, Resolution 2235 (2015), S/RES/2235 (2015), http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2235(2015) (accessed September 6, 2017).

[12] “Joint Investigative Mechanism of the UN and OPCW,” UN News Centre, http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocusRel.asp?infocusID=146 (accessed September 6, 2017). See also “UN Security Council: Ensure Justice for Syria Atrocities,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 30, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/30/un-security-council-ensure-justice-s....

[13] UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/Pages/IndependentInternat... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[14] Human Rights Watch, “Syria,” https://www.hrw.org/middle-east/n-africa/syria; Amnesty International, “Syria,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria (accessed September 6, 2017); Syria Justice and Accountability Center, homepage, https://syriaaccountability.org (accessed September 6, 2017).

[15] Most laws require the suspect be present on their territory. Legislation in France, the United Kingdom, and Spain further prescribes that the suspect be a resident for national courts to exercise jurisdiction over them for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed abroad. See Human Rights Watch, “Q&A: First Cracks to Impunity in Syria, Iraq – Refugee Crisis and Universal Jurisdiction Cases in Europe,” October 20, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/20/qa-first-cracks-impunity-syria-iraq.

[16] See Section II, “Frameworks for Justice in Sweden and Germany.” It should be noted that neither Swedish nor German law allow for trials in absentia for grave international crimes.

[17] UNHCR, “Europe: Syrian Asylum Applications,” April 2011 to July 2017, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/asylum.php (accessed September 6, 2017).

[18] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmad, February 3, 2017.

[19] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017.

[20] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdullah, Värmdö, January 18, 2017.

[21] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad, Berlin, February 24, 2017.

[23] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017.

[24] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Four of these cases were brought under universal jurisdiction, while two where brought under the active personality principle.

[27] Nikola Jorgić appealed his conviction, including to the European Court of Human Rights, but was unsuccessful. German police investigated over 150 other individuals for their involvement in the former Yugoslav conflict, but only four persons were ultimately prosecuted before German courts. See Amnesty International, Germany: End Impunity through Universal Jurisdiction, October 1, 2008, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/EUR23/003/2008/en (accessed September 6, 2017), pp. 91-98.

[28] Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice: Lessons from Specialized War Crimes Units in France, Germany and the Netherlands, September 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/16/long-arm-justice/lessons-specializ..., pp. 102-103; TRIAL International, “Trial Watch: Rami K.,” last modified May 30, 2017, https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/rami-k (accessed September 6, 2017).

[29] TRIAL international, “Trial Watch: Jackie Arklöv,” last modified June 14, 2016, https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/jackie-arklov (accessed September 6, 2017). For more information, see Mark Klamberg, “International Criminal Law in Swedish Courts: The Principle of Legality in the Arklöv Case,” International Criminal Law Review, vol. 9 (2009), pp. 395-409.

[30] TRIAL International, “Trial Watch: Ahmet Makitan,” last modified June 1, 2016, https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/ahmet-makitan (accessed September 6, 2017); TRIAL International, “Trial Watch: Milic Martinovic,” last modified June 9, 2016, https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/milic-martinovic (accessed September 6, 2017); TRIAL International, “Trial Watch: Stanislas Mbanenande,” last modified June 14, 2016, https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/stanislas-mbanenande (accessed September 6, 2017); TRIAL International, “Trial Watch: Claver Berinkindi,” last modified February 17, 2017, https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/berinkindi-clever (accessed September 6, 2017); TRIAL International, “Trial Watch: Tabaro Theodore,” February 8, 2017, https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/tabaro-theodore (accessed September 6, 2017); TRIAL International, “Trial Watch: Raed Abdulkareem,” last modified February 8, 2017, https://trialinternational.org/latest-post/raed-abdulkareem (accessed September 6, 2017).

[31] Act 2014:406 on Criminal Responsibility for Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes (Lag 2014:406 om straff för folkmord, brott mot mänskligheten och krigsförbrytelser), Försvarsdepartementet, entered into force July 1, 2014, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningss... (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish, http://www.government.se/49cd62/contentassets/6e0e65c994124235a39387e2dc... (accessed September 6, 2017),
official English translation.

[32] Swedish Penal Code 1962:700 (Bottsbalken 1962:700), Justitiedepartementet L5, entered into force December 21, 1962, chapter 22, section 6, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningss... (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish, http://www.government.se/49cd60/contentassets/
5315d27076c942019828d6c36521696e/swedish-penal-code.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial English translation. Crimes against humanity committed before July 1, 2014 can only be prosecuted as regular crimes under the Swedish Penal Code (e.g. murder, rape, assault), while genocide committed before July 1, 2014 is criminalized in the Act 1964:169 on the Punishment of Genocide (Lag 1964:169 om straff för folkmord), Justitiedepartementet L5, entered into force March 20, 1964, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningss... (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish.

[33] Act on Criminal Responsibility for Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes, sections 2(2), 4(2). The Swedish government has proposed a legislation to penalize the crime of torture as defined in the Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention Against Torture). See Swedish Ministry of Justice (Justitiedepartment), “A Special Torture?” (“Ett särskilt tortybrott”), Ds 2015:42, August 2015, http://www.regeringen.se/contentassets/740d39e2a0c640158b74198b7e760ce0/ds-2015-42-ett-sarskilt-tortyrbrott.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017). A bill is expected at the end of 2017. See Swedish Government (Regeringskansliet), “Sweden Addresses Criticism of the Council of Europe's Committee Against Torture” (Sverige åtgärdar kritik från Europarådets kommitté mot tortyr), October 27, 2016, http://www.regeringen.se/artiklar/2016/10/sverige-atgardar-kritik-fran-europaradets-kommitte-mot-tortyr (accessed September 6, 2017).

[34] Swedish Penal Code, chapter 2, section 3(6); Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish academic, April 19, 2017.

[35] Swedish Penal Code, chapter 20, section 3; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017. If the suspect is not in the territory of Sweden, prosecutors could still open an investigation and share information with other countries in and outside Europe pursuant to relevant cooperation protocols.

[36] Code for Crimes against International Law or CCAIL (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch or VStGB), entered into force June 30, 2002, https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/vstgb/gesamt.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), German, http://www.iuscomp.org/gla/statutes/VoeStGB.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial English translation. The CCAIL entered into force one day before the Rome Statute.

[37] CCAIL, chapter 1, section 7(1) n. 5 and chapter 2, section 8(1) n.3; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 15, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017.

[38] This form of “pure” universal jurisdiction is defined in section 1 of the CCAIL: “This Act shall apply to all criminal offenses against international law designated under the Act, so serious criminal offenses designated therein even when the offense was committed abroad and bears no relation to Germany.”

[39] German Code of Criminal Procedure (Strafprozeßordnung or StPo), entered into force April 7, 1987, section 153(f), http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/stpo (accessed September 6, 2017), German, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_stpo/englisch_stpo.html (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial English translation.

[40] Swedish police (Polisen), “War crimes – Police Work” (“Krigsbrotts – Polisens arbete”), https://polisen.se/Om-polisen/Olika-typer-av-brott/Krigsbrott (accessed September 6, 2017). As of September 2017, as far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the commission employed 13 investigators and two analysts.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish official, January 17, 2017.

[42] The intelligence officers also cooperate with the Swedish security service and military intelligence, and with intelligence counterparts in other countries. Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, March 21, 2017.

[43] Swedish Prosecution Authority (Åklagarmyndigheten), “International Public Prosecutor Office Stockholm” (“Internationella åklagarkammaren Stockholm”), https://www.aklagare.se/kontakt/aklagaromraden/nationella-aklagaravdelni... (accessed September 6, 2017). As of September 2017, as far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the unit employed eight prosecutors. The International Public Prosecution Office employs 40 prosecutors overall and is responsible for most crimes with an international connection, like terrorism or grave international crimes. Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[44] In the case of regular crimes, investigations are led by the police. Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[45] This is true for the Swedish prosecution authority overall, and means, for example, that prosecutors can issue arrest warrants or task the police to conduct house searches without judicial authorization. Such authorization is required only in limited circumstances (e.g. wiretapping). To prosecute crimes committed outside of the territory of Sweden, however, prosecutors need authorization from either the government or the prosecutor general. See Swedish Penal Code, chapter 2, section 5(2) and Regulation 1993:1467 authorizing the Prosecutor to order prosecution in certain cases (Förordning 1993:1467 med bemyndigande för riksåklagaren att förordna om väckande av åtal i vissa fall), Justitiedepartementet L5, entered into force December 16, 1993, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/forordning-19931467-med-bemyndigande-for_sfs-1993-1467 (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[46] Four prosecutors on the war crimes prosecutor team are also trained to work on terrorism cases. Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[47] Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverkets), homepage, https://www.migrationsverket.se/English/Startpage.%20html (accessed September 6, 2017). The procedure that regulates asylum applications is outlined in the Swedish Aliens Act. See Aliens Act 2005:716 (Utlänningslagen 2005:716), Justitiedepartementet L7, entered into force March 31, 2006, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningss... (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish, http://www.government.se/contentassets/784b3d7be3a54a0185f284bbb2683055/... (accessed September 6, 2017), official English translation; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Swedish official, February 27, 2017.

[48] These regions are: North, Mid, West, East, and South Sweden as well as Stockholm. Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish official, January 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Swedish official, February 27, 2017.

[49] In 2009, the Swedish Aliens Act was amended and now includes a provision on exclusions. See Aliens Act, chapter 4 section 2b,as amended by Act 2009:1542 amending the Aliens Act 2005:716 (Lag 2009:1542 om ändring i utlänningslagen 2005:716), Justitiedepartementet L7, entered into force January 1, 2010, http://notisum.se/rnp/sls/sfs/20091542.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish, http://www.government.se/contentassets/86ebb559cc2d4cf5
bee5906236977436/act-amending-the-aliens-act.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), official English translation.

[50] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Swedish official, February 27, 2017.

[51] Ibid.

[52] The unit operates out of the Legal Affairs Department, based in Norrköping. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, March 16, 2016.

[53] Regulation 2016:1245 amending Regulation 2007: 996 with instructions for the Migration Agency (Förordning 2016:1245

om ändring i förordningen (2007:996) med instruktion för Migrationsverket), entered into force December 16, 2016, section 2 (17), https://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/sfs/20161245.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[54] One public official confirmed that during asylum interviews asylum seekers are usually not notified that information they provide may be shared with other government agencies, such as the police or the prosecution authority. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, August 22, 2017.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Swedish officials, February 27, 2017. When a person is under investigation for grave international crimes, the asylum process is suspended and it is resumed if the investigation cannot confirm their involvement in the alleged crimes. If there is evidence that the person may have committed these crimes but there is not enough to start a criminal prosecution, he or she may be deported to the country of origin, after being denied refugee status under the 1F clause of the Refugee Convention. However, if deportation is not possible (as is currently the case of Syria), the person is granted a temporary residence permit in Sweden. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, August 22, 2017.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, March 22, 2017.

[57] Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt or BKA), “Central Unit for the Fight against War Crimes and Further Offenses Pursuant to the Code of Crimes against International Law” (“Zentralstelle für die Bekämpfung von Kriegsverbrechen und weiteren Straftaten nach dem Völkerstrafgesetzbuch or ZBKV), April 14, 2011, https://www.bka.de/EN/OurTasks/Remit/
CentralAgency/ZBKV/zbkv_node.html (accessed September 6, 2017); Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017. For more information on the creation of the unit, see Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice, pp. 52-53.

[58] As of September 2017, as far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the unit employed 13 police officers. Human Rights Watch interview with German Officials, February 22, 2017. The ZBKV also employs four regular employees who are not public officials (tarifbeschäftigte), three of which work part-time. See German Parliament (Deutscher Bundestag), “Reply by the Federal Government to the Inquiry Put by Mr Tom Koenigs, Mr Luise Amtsberg, Dr Franziska Brantner, Other Members of Parliament and the Parliamentary Group BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNE (Green Party): Investigation in Germany for Serious International Crimes Committed in Syria” (“Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Tom Koenigs, Luise Amtsberg , Dr. Franziska Brantner, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion: Ermittlung von in Syrien begangenen Volkerstraftaten in Deutschland”), Document n. 18/12533 (Drucksache 18 /12533), May 30, 2017, http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/18/125/1812533.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), question 17.

[59] Office of the Federal Prosecutor General (Generalbundesanwalt or GBA), “Crimes under the Criminal Code” (“Straftaten nach dem Völkerstrafgesetzbuch”), https://www.generalbundesanwalt.de/de/voelker.php (accessed September 6, 2017). As of September 2017, as far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the unit employed seven prosecutors. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017, and email correspondence March 31, May 29, and July 13, 2017.

[60] Human Rights watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[61] Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge or BAMF), “Migration to Germany” (“Migration nach Deutschland”), http://www.bamf.de/EN/Startseite/startseite-node.html (accessed September 6, 2017); BAMF, “Organizational Chart,” http://www.bamf.de/SharedDocs/Anlagen/EN/Downloads/Infothek/Sonstige/
organigramm.pdf?__blob=publicationFile (accessed September 6, 2017). As of September 2017, as far as Human Rights Watch is aware, division 235 employed 29 people. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, April 10, 2017. The 2008 Asylum Act regulates the procedure applicable to asylum applications in Germany. See Asylum Act (Asylgesetz), entered into force September 2, 2008, section 3(2)(1), https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/asylvfg_1992/gesamt.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), German, https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_asylvfg (accessed September 6, 2017), official English translation.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 17, 2017.

[63] The initial 20 centers were responsible for all immigration-related tasks, while now different centers have specific functions: welcome, registration, and decision-making. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 17, 2017.

[64] Asylum Act, section 8(3); German Code of Criminal Procedure, section 487; Law on the Federal Criminal Police Office and Cooperation between the Confederation and the States in Criminal Matters (Gesetz über das Bundeskriminalamt und die Zusammenarbeit des Bundes und der Länder in kriminalpolizeilichen Angelegenheiten or BKAG), entered into force July 7, 1997, https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bkag_1997 (accessed September 6, 2017). During asylum interviews, asylum seekers are not notified that information they provide may be shared with other government agencies, such as the federal police or the federal prosecution authority. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 17, 2017; German Parliament, “Reply by the Federal Government to the Inquiry Put by Mr Tom Koenigs, Mr Luise Amtsberg, Dr Franziska Brantner, Other Members of Parliament and the Parliamentary Group BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNE (Green Party): Investigation in Germany for Serious International Crimes Committed in Syria,” Document n. 18/12533, questions 4 and 12.

[65] Division 235, in consultation with the federal police, has developed a system to categorize information using a scale from 1 to 5: Categories 1 and 2 include information about perpetrators present in Germany or Europe; Categories 3 and 4 include information from members of institutions which are relevant to the CCAIL (ideally either eyewitnesses or, giving or receiving orders for actions relevant to the CCAIL); Category 5 includes information about eyewitnesses or victims of a crime relevant to the CCAIL. Division 235 staff categorize information accordingly before sending it to the ZBKV. This system helps the ZBKV prioritize cases by importance. See German Parliament, “Reply by the Federal Government to the Inquiry Put by Mr Tom Koenigs, Mr Luise Amtsberg, Dr Franziska Brantner, Other Members of Parliament and the Parliamentary Group BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNE (Green Party): Investigation in Germany for Serious International Crimes Committed in Syria,” Document n. 18/12533, questions 15 and 20.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, April 10, 2017. If a police investigation is opened, the asylum procedure is suspended pending the results of the investigation. If the police investigation finds evidence that a person has committed a grave international crime and prosecutors decide not to pursue the case before German courts, the person is denied refugee status in Germany and usually returned to their home country. If the police investigation cannot confirm involvement in an international crime, the person’s asylum application is then considered by the immigration service. See Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice, p. 57. At the height of the refugee crisis in 2014 and 2015, the BAMF used a form to screen Syrian asylum seekers instead of an asylum interview. This form was only used for a brief period and it included questions about war crimes. If the questionnaire revealed evidence of potential crimes, the person was interviewed by the BAMF. According to some practitioners, the form was not a good source of information because it only asked “YES/NO” questions and did not qualitatively improve the information the ZBKV gathered in that time. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017. For more information on the initial use of this form see Human Rights Watch, Long Arm of Justice, pp. 57-58.

[67] This structural investigation was opened in October 2015. Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Henrik Attorps (Swedish war crimes prosecutor team), untitled contribution to panel discussion at side event “Accountability Series on the Syrian Arab Republic,” Permanent Missions of Liechtenstein and Canada, 34th Human Rights Council, Palais des Nations, Geneva, March 14, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, June 19, 2017.

[68] In March 2017, the War Crimes Commission was working on a total of 42 investigations covering different countries. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, March 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone correspondence with Swedish official, April 28, 2017.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017 and February 22, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, March 20, 2017. At the time of writing, three ZBKV employees were working on the structural investigation on the Syrian conflict, while two were working on the structural investigation on ISIS. See German Parliament, “Reply by the Federal Government to the inquiry Put by Mr Tom Koenigs, Mr Luise Amtsberg, Dr Franziska Brantner, Other Members of Parliament and the Parliamentary Group BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNE (Green Party): Investigation in Germany for Serious International Crimes Committed in Syria,” Document n. 18/12533, question 18.

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with German official, February 22, 2017. Since 2011, German authorities have conducted 74 investigations for grave international crimes. Twenty-one of these investigations relate to crimes by ISIS, while six relate to crimes by the Syrian government. See German Parliament (Deutscher Bundestag), “Reply by the Federal Government to the Inquiry Put by Katja Keul, Tom Koenings, Dr. Franziska Brantner Other Members of Parliament and the Parliamentary Group BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNE (Green Party): Investigation in Germany for Serious International Crimes Committed in Syria” (“Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Katja Keul, Tom Koenigs, Dr. Franziska Brantner, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion: Ermittlung von in Syrien begangenen Volkerstraftaten in Deutschland”), Document n. 18/12487 (Drucksache 18 /12487), May 24, 2017, http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/18/124/1812487.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), questions 3 and 4.

[71] In an additional case, two Swedish nationals, members of ISIS Hassan Mostafa Al-Mandlawi and Al Amin Sultan, were charged alternatively with terrorism offenses and war crimes but were ultimately tried and convicted under terrorism laws. Prosecutor v. Hassan Mostafa Al-Mandlawi and Al Amin Sultan, Stockholm District Court, Case B 9086-15, Judgment of December 14, 2015; Prosecutor v. Hassan Mostafa Al-Mandlawi and Al Amin Sultan, Court of Appeal for Western Sweden, Case B 5306-15, Judgment of March 30, 2016.

[72] German authorities have also arrested and charged several individuals suspected of having committed serious international crimes in Syria. For more information on these cases, see Annex I.

[73] For the purpose of this chart we have followed the naming convention used by Swedish and German authorities.

[74] Swedish Penal Code, chapter 3, section 6(2), and chapter 22, section 6 (1). The crimes in this case were committed in 2012, before the new legislation penalizing serious international crimes entered into force. See section II, “Frameworks for Justice in Sweden and Germany.”

[75] Prosecutor v. Mouhannand Droubi, Södertörn District Court, Case B 13656-14, Judgment of February 26, 2015; Prosecutor v. Mouhannand Droubi, Svea Court of Appeal, Case B 2440-15, Decision of February 23, 2016 announced on February 26, 2016; Prosecutor v. Mouhannand Droubi, Södertörn District Court, Case B 2639-16, Judgment of May 11, 2016; Prosecutor v. Mouhannand Droubi, Svea Court of Appeal, Case B 4770-16, Judgment of August 5, 2016.

[76] Swedish Penal Code, chapter 22, section 6 (1) and (2).

[77] Prosecutor v. Haisam Omar Sakhanh, Stockholm District Court, Case B 3787-16, Judgment of February 16, 2017; Prosecutor v. Haisam Omar Sakhanh, Svea Court of Appeal, Case B 3787-16, Judgment of May 31, 2017. On July 20, 2017, the Swedish Supreme Court denied Sakhanh’s leave to appeal, Prosecutor v. Haisam Omar Sakhanh, Swedish Supreme Court, Case B 3157-17, Decision of July 20, 2017.

[78] Swedish Penal Code, chapter 22, section 6 (1).

[79] Prosecutor v. Mohammad Abdullah, Södertörn District Court, Case B 11191-17, Judgment of September 25, 2017. Abdullah had been previously accused of the killing of the people in the incriminating photograph. However, charges were dropped and the case was dismissed in March 2016 for lack of corroborating evidence. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, September 15, 2017. See also TRIAL International, Make Way for Justice #3: Universal Jurisdiction Annual Review 2017, https://trialinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/UJAR-MEP_A4_01... (accessed September 6, 2017), p. 49.

[80] CCAIL, section 8 (1) n. 9 and section 8 (6) n. 2.

[81] Prosecutor v. Aria L., Frankfurt Higher Regional Court, Case 5 – 3 StE 2/16 – 4 – 1/16, Judgment of July 12, 2016, http://www.lareda.hessenrecht.hessen.de/lexsoft/default/hessenrecht_lare... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[82] CCAIL, section 8 (1) n. 9; German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch or StGB), entered into force November 13, 1998, sections 129a (1) n. 1, 129a (2) n. 2, 129b (1), and 129b (2), https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/stgb/gesamt.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), German, https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_stgb/englisch_stgb.html (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial English translation; Law for the Control of Military Weapons (Kriegswaffenkontrollgesetz, KrWaffKontrG), entered into force November 22, 1990, section 22a (1) n. 6, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/krwaffkontrg/gesamt.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), German, http://germanlawarchive.iuscomp.org/?p=741 (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial English translation.

[83]Prosecutor v. Abdelkarim El. B., Frankfurt Higher Regional Court, Case 5-3 StE 4/16 - 4 - 3/16, Judgment of November 8, 2016, http://www.lareda.hessenrecht.hessen.de/lexsoft/default/hessenrecht_lareda.html#docid:7812208 (accessed September 6, 2017).

[84] The accused was acquitted of terrorism charges under sections 129a (1) and 129b (1) of the German Criminal Code.

[85] CCAIL, section 10 (1) n.1.

[86] Stuttgart Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgerich Stuttgart), “5th Senate of the Higher Regional Court Stuttgart convicts the defendant who participated in the kidnapping of a United Nations employee in Syria for aiding and abetting the war crime against humanitarian operations pursuant to Section 10 para. 1 n. 1 of the German Code of Crimes Against International Law and other crimes” (“5. Strafsenat des Oberlandesgerichts Stuttgart verurteilt einen an der Entführung eines Mitarbeiters der Vereinten Nationen in Syrien beteiligten Angeklagten wegen Beihilfe zu einem Kriegsverbrechen gegen humanitäre Operationen gemäß § 10 Abs. 1 Nr. 1 Völkerstrafgesetzbuch u. a.”), September 20, 2017, http://www.olg-stuttgart.de/pb/,Lde/4801270/?LISTPAGE=1178276 (accessed Spetember 20, 2017).

[87] CCAIL, section 8 (1) n. 3 and section 9 (1).

[88] Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf), “No. 14/2017 Committed War Crimes under International Criminal Law: Opening, Schedule and Accreditation in the Case against Ibrahim A. F.” (“Nr. 14/2017 Begehung von Kriegsverbrechen nach dem Völkerstrafrecht: Eröffnung, Termine und Akkreditierung im Verfahren gegen Ibrahim A. F.“), May 15, 2017, http://www.olg-duesseldorf.nrw.de/behoerde/presse/archiv/Pressemitteilun...
PM_Eroeffnung-Ibrahim-A_F_/index.php (accessed september 6, 2017).

[89] Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[90] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Varberg, January 19, 2017.

[91] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Abdullah, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmad, February 3, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Hakim, Hannover, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017; Human Rights watch interview with Adnan, Berlin, February 23, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad, Berlin, February 24, 2017.

[92] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish academic, January 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German academics, February 23, 2017.

[94] See discussion below on immunities in sub-section on “Standard Challenges,” in particular footnote 104.

[95] The crime of terrorism in Sweden is regulated by three laws penalizing direct responsibility for terrorist offenses, public provocation, recruitment, and training as well as financing. Membership in a terrorist organization is not a criminal offense in Sweden. Act 2003:148 on Criminal Responsibility for Terrorist Offenses (Lag 2003:148 om straff för terroristbrott), Justitiedepartementet L5, entered into force July 1, 2003, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningss... (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish, http://www.government.se/49cd60/contentassets/f84107eae6154ce19e65d64151... (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial English translation; Act 2010:299 on Criminal Responsibility for Provocation, Recruitment and Training Concerning Terrorist Offenses and Other Particularly Serious Crimes (Lag 2010:299 om straff för offentlig uppmaning, rekrytering och utbildning avseende terroristbrott och annan särskilt allvarlig brottslighet), Justitiedepartementet L5, entered into force December 1, 2010, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningss... (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish, http://www.government.se/4aa8b5/contentassets/f0c331a80c244813af517a0661...
/2010_299-act-on-criminal-responsibility-for-public-provocation-recruitment-and-training-concerning-terrorist-offences-and-other-particularly-serious-crime.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial English translation; Act 2002:444 on Criminal Responsibility for the Financing of Particularly Serious Crime in Some Cases (Lag (2002:444) om straff för finansiering av särskilt allvarlig brottslighet i vissa fall), Justitiedepartementet L5, entered into force July 1, 2002, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningss... (accessed September 6, 2017), http://www.government.se/49cd62/contentassets/
d28a807aff3f4acb84dcae29daa1aac3/act-on-criminal-responsibility-for-the-financing-of-particularly-serious-crime-in-some-cases_2002_444_unofficial-translation.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial English translation. There are currently several proposals to expand this legal framework, including a new provision to penalize participation in combat-related activities in armed conflicts abroad in support of a terrorist organization.See Swedish Justice Department (Justitiedepartmentet), “Criminal Action Against Participation in Armed Conflict in Support of a Terrorist Organization” (“Straffrättsliga åtgärder mot deltagande i en väpnad konflikt till stöd för en terroristorganisation”), Official Report SOU 2016:40, June 2016, p. 25, http://www.regeringen.se/49d6b7/contentassets/fde512ceb1444e85a7be662142...
straffrattsliga-atgarder-mot-deltagande-i-en-vapnad-konflikt-till-stod-for-en-terroristorganisation-sou-2016-40.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017). Some commentators have criticized the proposal. See, for example, Mark Klamberg, “What Can and Should We Outlaw?” (“Vad kan och bör vi kriminalisera?”), Upsala Nya Tidning, October 8, 2016, http://www.unt.se/asikt/
ledare/vad-kan-och-bor-vi-kriminalisera-4398397.aspx (accessed September 6, 2017).
In addition, the Swedish Justice Department’s Official Report proposes an extension of criminal liability concerning travel for terrorist purposes, financing of such travel and recruitment for particularly serious crimes. See Official Report SOU 2016:40, pp. 26-27.

[96] By the end of 2016, there were 45 cases for Syria-related terrorism crimes in Germany and only four cases for war crimes committed in Syria. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with NGO, December 9, 2016.

[97] German Criminal Code, sections 129a, 129b; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 15, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German academic, February 17, 2017.

[98] German Criminal Code, sections 89a, 89b; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 15, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German academic, February 17, 2017.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[100] Ibid.

[101] See German Criminal Code, section 129a and CCAIL. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[102] Dr. Peter Frank (Public Prosecutor General at the Federal Court of Justice) and Holger Schneider-Glockzin (Public Prosecutor at the Federal Court of Justice), “Terrorism and International Crime in Armed Conflicts” (“Terrorismus und Völkerstraftaten im bewaffneten Konflikt”), Neue Zeitschrift für Strafrecht (New Journal of Criminal Law), 2017 Issue 1, January 15, 2017, pp. 2, 5.

[103] Ibid., p. 9.

[104] See Democratic Republic of Congo v. Belgium, International Court of Justice, Judgment of April 14, 2002,

http://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/121/121-20020214-JUD-01-00-EN.pdf  (accessed September 6, 2017).

[105] Germany’s Courts Constitution Act provides immunity from prosecution for diplomatic missions and state representatives on official invitation in Germany. Immunity for other senior government officials is interpreted in line with customary international law. See Courts Constitution Act (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz), entered into force September 12, 1950, sections 18-20, https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/gvg/gesamt.pdf (accessed September 6, 2017), German, https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gvg/englisch_gvg.html (accessed September 6, 2017), official English translation. For more information, see Human Rights Watch, The Legal Framework for Universal Jurisdiction in Germany, p. 3. Chapter 2, section 7 of the Swedish Penal Code states that “limitations [to the jurisdiction of Swedish courts] resulting from generally recognized fundamental principles of public international law or from special provisions in agreements with foreign powers, shall be observed.”

[106] See Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice, pp. 5-21.

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish academic, January 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with NGO, February 9, 2017. See also C. J. Chivers, “Syrian Asylum Seeker Linked to Mass Killing is Arrested in Sweden,” New York Times, March 16, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/world/europe/syrian-asylum-seeker-lin... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[108] In the case against Haisam Omar Sakhanh, for example, Mark Klamberg, associate professor in international law at Stockholm University, testified as an expert witness on the possibility for non-state actors to establish courts, issue sentences and void criminal responsibility for acts that would otherwise constitute war crimes. Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish academic, January 20, 2017.

[109] Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with NGO, Stockholm, February 9, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Swedish journalists, February 8, 2017.

[110] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[111] Ibid.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017. See German Parliament, “Reply by the Federal Government to the Inquiry Put by Mr Tom Koenigs, Mr Luise Amtsberg, Dr Franziska Brantner, Other Members of Parliament and the Parliamentary Group BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNE (Green Party): Investigation in Germany for Serious International Crimes Committed in Syria,” Document n. 18/12533, question 12.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian Refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmad, February 3, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Swedish journalist, February 8, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[117] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmad, February 3, 2017.

[118] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian Refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights watch interview with Layal, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017.

[119] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017.

[120] Ibid.

[121] Human Rights Watch group interviews with Syrian refugees, Värmdö and Varberg, January 18-19, 2017; Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with NGO, Stockholm, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmad, February 3, 2017; Human Rights Watch with Swedish victims’ lawyer, January 20, 2017.

[122] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Varberg, January 19, 2017.

[123] Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure 1942:740 (Rättegångsbalken 1942:740), entered into force January 1, 1948, chapters 36 section 10, and 37 section 3, http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssa... (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish, http://www.government.se/contentassets/a1be9e99a5c64d1bb93a96ce5d517e9c/... (accessed September 6, 2017), official English translation. Alternative witness protection measures are available in Sweden either under the national program for personal protection or pursuant to the Code of Judicial Procedure. See Police Act 1984:387 (Polislag 1984:387), entered into force June 7, 1984, sections 2a and b, http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssa... (accessed September 6, 2017); Ordinance 2006:519 on Special Personal Safety Programs (Förordning 2006:519 om särskilt personsäkerhetsarbete m.m.), entered into force June 1, 2006, para. 2, http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssa... (accessed September 6, 2017); Law 1991:483 on Fictitious Personal Identification Data (Lag 1991:483 om fingerade personuppgifter), entered into force May 30, 1991, sections 2-4, http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssa... (accessed September 6, 2017); Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure, chapters 35 section 14 and 36 sections 18-19. See also Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), “Report Concerning the Implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Sweden,” GRETA (2014)11, May 27, 2014, paras. 218-219, https://rm.coe.int/168063c456 (accessed September 6, 2017).

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with Layal, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[125] German Code of Criminal Procedure, section 68; Human Rights Watch interview with German academic, February 14, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German victims’ lawyers, February 14, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German academics, February 23, 2017.

[126] In addition, victims who wish to participate in proceedings as civil parties cannot remain anonymous. Human Rights Watch interview with German victims’ lawyers, February 14, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German academics, February 23, 2017.

[127] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Abdullah, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[128] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[129] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights watch interview with Abdullah, Värmdö, January 18, 2017.

[130] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[131] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017.

[132] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017.

[133] See Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure, chapter 20, sections 8-9; Legal Aid Act 1996:1619 (Rättshjälplagen 1996:1619), Justitiedepartementet DOM, entered into force December 1, 1997, http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svenskforfattningssam... (accessed September 6, 2017), Swedish, http://ec.europa.eu/justice_home/judicialatlascivil/html/pdf/national_la... (accessed September 6, 2017), unofficial summarized translation.

[134] See German Code of Criminal Procedure, section 397a (1). Section 395 of the Code of Criminal Procedure lists the crimes for which victims can participate as “private accessory prosecutors.” While the provision does not explicitly mention serious international crimes, it includes offenses against bodily integrity, murder and serious sexual offenses which may constitute acts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

[135] This was also confirmed by civil society working with refugees in Sweden. Human Rights Watch interview with NGO, Stockholm, January 16, 2017. In Sweden, such information is usually delivered to a potential victim during the early stages of an investigation by the lawyer appointed to assist him or her. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, August 14, 2017. In Germany, such information is usually given to asylum seekers if and when they are questioned by the police. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017. According to article 4 1(b) the 2012 EU Directive on the rights of victims of crimes, “Member States shall ensure that victims are offered the following information, without unnecessary delay, from their first contact with a competent authority in order to enable them to access the rights set out in this Directive: […] (b) the procedures for making complaints with regard to a criminal offense and their role in connection with such procedures.” See Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council Establishing Minimum Standards on the Rights, Support, and Protection of Victims of Crime, and Replacing Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA, October 25, 2015, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32012L0029&... (accessed September 6, 2017), article 4 1(b).

[136] On March 1, 2017, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) together with seven Syrian torture survivors as well as two Syrian lawyers Anwar al-Bunni (Syrian Center for Legal Researches & Studies) and Mazen Darwish (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Speech) submitted a criminal complaint to the Office of the Federal Prosecutor against six high-level officials within the Syrian Military Intelligence Service. At the time of writing, German prosecutors had started interviewing the victims who brought the claim. See “Torture under the Assad Regime: Germany Paves the Way for First Syrian Cases under Universal Jurisdiction Laws,” ECCHR, https://www.ecchr.eu/en/international-crimes-and-accountability/syria/to... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[137] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017.

[138] Human Right Watch group interviews with Syrian refugees, Värmdö and Varberg, January 18-19, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Layal, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Hakim, Hannover, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[139] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Varberg, January 19, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[140] Human Right Watch group interviews with Syrian refugees, Värmdö and Varberg, January 18-19, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Layal, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[141] Portions of trials in Sweden can be audio recorded. The opening of trials and the delivery of judgements in Constitutional Court cases in Germany are at times televised. Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 15, 2017.

[142] See press release section of the Swedish police website https://polisen.se/Aktuellt/Pressmeddelanden/00-Gemensam/Presstraff--att... (accessed September 6, 2017); news section of the Swedish police website https://polisen.se/Aktuellt/Nyheter/Gemensam-2017/Februari/Tva-man-doms-... (accessed September 6, 2017); and press release section of the German federal prosecution authority website https://www.generalbundesanwalt.de/de/aktuell.php (accessed September 6, 2017).

[143] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017.

[144] See transcript of invitation to a news conference on how to investigate war crimes, Swedish Prosecution Authority (Åklagarmyndigheten), Stockholm, February 10, 2017, https://www.aklagare.se/en/nyheter--press/press-releases/?newsId=791CA47... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[145] Human Rights Watch interview with German victims’ lawyers, February 14, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German academic, February 14, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 15, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017.

[146] For the purpose of this report, media include print, online, broadcast and audio news outlets.

[147] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish victims’ lawyer, January 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish defense lawyer, January 20, 2017.

[148] Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmad, February 3, 2017.

[149] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmad, February 3, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Swedish journalists, February 8, 2017.

[150] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Cologne, February 22, 2017.

[151] Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Värmdö, January 18, 2017.

[152] Human Right Watch group interviews with Syrian refugees, Värmdö and Varberg, January 18-19, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Berlin, February 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch group interview with Syrian refugees, Hannover, February 21, 2017.

[153] Ibid.

[154]Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union, adopted April 20, 1959, ETS No.030, entered into force June 12, 1962. See also Council Act of 29 May 2000 Establishing in Accordance with Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union, adopted on May 29, 2000, OJ C 197, 12.7.2000, entered into force August 23, 2005.

[155] Eurojust, EU Genocide Network homepage, http://www.eurojust.europa.eu/Practitioners/Genocide-Network/Pages/Genocide-Network.aspx (accessed September 6, 2017). For more information on the establishment and the work of the EU Genocide Network, see Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice, pp. 86-90.

[156] Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice, pp. 86-90.

[157] In the context of Syria, Swedish officials reported effective cooperation with Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and France, while German officials reported the same with France, Norway and the Netherlands. Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[158] Grave international crimes have recently become part of Europol’s mandate. See “Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 on the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol),” (EU) 2016/794, May 11, 2017, https://www.europol.europa.eu/publications-documents/regulation-eu-2016/... (accessed September 6, 2017). Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017. See also Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice, p. 92.

[159] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017. See also Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice, p. 92.

[160] For more information see Human Rights Watch, The Long Arm of Justice, pp. 91-92. See also Maarten Bolhuis and Joris van Wijk, “Study on the Exchange of Information between European Countries Regarding Persons Excluded from Refugee Status in Accordance with Article 1F Refugee Convention” (Amsterdam: Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 2015), https://cicj.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Bolhuis-Van-Wijk-2015-Study-... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[161] See European Asylum Support Office (EASO), “EASO Exclusion Network,” https://www.easo.europa.eu/easo-exclusion-network-0 (accessed September 6, 2017).

[162] See UNHCR, “Syrian Regional Refugee Response: Total Persons of Concern,” last updated September 6, 2017, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php#_ga=1.19774712.1190624... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[163] These countries do not have systems in place for the prosecution of grave international crimes. The Turkish Criminal Code contains provisions penalizing crimes against humanity and genocide but does not provide for the use of universal jurisdiction for these crimes. Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq have not incorporated grave international crimes into their domestic laws. Amnesty International, Universal Jurisdiction: A Preliminary Survey of Legislation Around the World – 2012 Update, October 9, 2012, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior53/019/2012/en (accessed September 6, 2017); pp. 64-65, 67-68, 72-73, 115-116.

[164] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German official, February 23, 2017.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Swedish journalist, February 8, 2017.

[166] This was the case against Mouhannand Droubi. See Prosecutor v. Mouhannand Droubi, Södertörn District Court, Case B 13656-14, Judgment of February 26, 2015; Prosecutor v. Mouhannand Droubi, Svea Court of Appeal, Case B 2440-15, Decision of February 23, 2016 announced on February 26, 2016; Prosecutor v. Mouhannand Droubi, Södertörn District Court, Case B 2639-16, Judgment of May 11, 2016; Prosecutor v. Mouhannand Droubi, Svea Court of Appeal, Case B 4770-16, Judgment of August 5, 2016. See also Terese Cristiansson, “An Unusual but Obvious Decision” (“Ett ovanligt men självklart beslut”), Kronikorer, February 26, 2016, http://www.expressen.se/kronikorer/terese-cristiansson/ett-ovanligt-men-... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[167] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Terese Cristiansson, “An Unusual but Obvious Decision,” Kronikorer.

[168] The federal police have a liaison office in Beirut who, in addition to supporting the work of the German police in Lebanon, is also responsible for Syria. However, the work on Syria is currently stalled due to the ongoing conflict. German Parliament, “Reply by the Federal Government to the Inquiry Put by Mr Tom Koenigs, Mr Luise Amtsberg, Dr Franziska Brantner, Other Members of Parliament and the Parliamentary Group BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNE (Green Party): Investigation in Germany for Serious International Crimes Committed in Syria,” Document n. 18/12533, question 27. Public officials also told Human Rights Watch that cooperation with Turkey seems unlikely due to diplomatic tensions between Germany and Turkey. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German official, February 23, 2017.

[169] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish defense lawyer, January 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German defense lawyer, April 23, 2017.

[170] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish defense lawyer, January 20, 2017.

[171] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German defense lawyer, April 23, 2017.

[172] See reports of the Commission of Inquiry at UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/
Pages/IndependentInternationalCommission.aspx (accessed September 6, 2017).

[173] Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[174] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Commission of Inquiry staff members, July 11 and 19, 2017.

[175] Ibid.

[176] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish official, January 17, 2017.

[177] Human Rights Watch interview with German official, February 23, 2017.

[178] UN General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General, A/71/L.755, January 19, 2017, https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/71/755 (accessed September 6, 2017).

[179] Human Rights Watch interviews with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[180] Ibid.; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, March 21, 2017.

[181] Ibid.

[182] Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure, chapter 19 section 2; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, March 22, 2017.

[183] The request is submitted to the Division for Criminal Cases and International Judicial Cooperation of the Ministry of Justice, but the decision is made by the government’s cabinet as a whole. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, June 19, 2017.

[184] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Swedish official, March 22, 2017.

[185] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish victims’ lawyer, January 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish academic, January 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish defense lawyer, January 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with NGO, February 9, 2017. According to two interviewees, this emerged as a problem in the Al-Madlawi case, in which the District Court of Gotheborg judges misinterpreted international humanitarian law, qualifying the crimes as terrorism offenses instead of war crimes. See Prosecutor v. Hassan Mostafa Al-Mandlawi and Al Amin Sultan, Stockholm District Court, Case B 9086-15, Judgment of December 14, 2015; Prosecutor v. Hassan Mostafa Al-Mandlawi and Al Amin Sultan, Court of Appeal for Western Sweden, Case B 5306-15, Judgment of March 30, 2016.

[186] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish defense lawyer, January 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with NGO, February 9, 2017.

[187] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish defense lawyer, January 20, 2017.

[188] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[189] Practitioners also mentioned training by the Institute for International Criminal Investigations. Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[190] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[191] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 17, 2017.

[192] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, May 29, 2017.

[193] Ibid.

[194] In addition, the prosecutors of the war crimes unit participate actively in the Working Group of International Criminal Law (Arbeitskreis Völkerstrafrecht), an annual conference of German-speaking scholars and practitioners working in the field of international criminal law. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, March 20, 2017.

[195] Courts Constitution Act, section 120; German Code of Criminal Procedure, sections 7-21; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, March 20, 2017; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, March 31, 2017.

[196] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, March 31, 2017. One ZBKV official recently suggested the creation of specialized panels of judges working on international criminal law cases within the higher regional courts. See Jörg Diehl, “BKA War Crime Investigator: You Will Never Forget Videos of Beheadings” (“BKA-Ermittler gegen Kriegsverbrecher: Aufnahmen von Enthauptungen vergessen Sie nicht”), Spiegel Online, June 22, 2017, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeskriminalamt-klaus-zorn-u... (accessed September 6, 2017).

[197] Some of the judges are also part of the above-mentioned Working Group of International Criminal Law. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German official, March 20, 2017.

[198] Human Rights Watch interview with German victims’ lawyers, February 14, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German academics, February 23, 2017. According to one practitioner interviewed in Germany, there should be a restricted admission policy for lawyers working on these types of cases. Human Rights Watch email correspondence with German defense lawyer, April 23, 2017.

[199] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[200] Ibid.

[201] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017.

[202] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 16, 2017; Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[203] Ibid.

[204] Ibid.

[205] Human Rights Watch interview with Swedish officials, January 17, 2017.

[206] Ibid.

[207] Ibid.; Human Rights Watch interview with NGO, Stockholm, January 17, 2017.

[208] See War Crimes Commission webpage, https://polisen.se/Om-polisen/Olika-typer-av-brott/Krigsbrott/ (accessed September 6, 2017).

[209] Human Rights Watch interview with German immigration officials, February 17, 2017. For more information on the electronic application, available in German, English, French, Persian and Farsi, see Ankommen, homepage, https://ankommenapp.de/ (accessed September 6, 2017).

[210] Human Rights Watch interview with German officials, February 22, 2017.

[211] See web page on the federal police website dedicated to the ZBKV, https://www.bka.de/EN/OurTasks/Remit/CentralAgency/ZBKV/zbkv_node.html (accessed September 6, 2017).

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Syrian children attend class in a school in the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan, October 20, 2015. The school taught Syrian girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon, but lacked electricity, heating, and running water. 

© 2016 Bill Van Esveld/Human Rights Watch

The big picture is bleak for Syrian refugee children, but the Jordanian government recently took a step to ensure these children’s right to an education.

Jordanian regulations require Syrian children to have a “service card,” issued by the interior ministry, to enroll in school. These cards may be difficult or impossible for Syrian families to obtain, if, for instance, they moved from refugee camps to towns or cities without official permission.

Last week, Jordan’s prime minister, Hani Mulki, announced that public schools would not turn away any child seeking an education, with or without a service card. Jordan’s education minister waived the requirement last year, but it was a temporary measure. Mulki’s decision locked it in as official Jordanian policy.

Most countries require children to have official identification documents to enroll in schools. But for families forced to flee their homes and countries, this can be a bar to education. Through no fault of their own, children may be shut out of classrooms if their parents are not officially registered with the authorities or if they left behind key documents while fleeing.

Jordan has also taken other steps to enroll more Syrian children. With funding from donors like the United States, it established a “catch-up” program to reach out-of-school children. With European Union support, Jordan has granted more work permits to Syrian refugees than any other host country, which should reduce poverty and child labor that prevent children from attending school.

Other countries hosting Syrian refugees should follow Jordan’s lead. Throughout the Middle East the number of Syrian children out of school has increased to around 730,000, according to a recent estimate. In some areas of Turkey, Syrian children are reportedly unable to obtain needed identification cards for schools. Even in Jordan, around 75,000 out of 220,000 Syrian refugee children still weren’t in the public school system last year.

Every day is a tipping point for some Syrian children who, unable to go to school, pass the point of ever going back. Jordan’s waiver of documentation requirements for school enrollment is a glimmer of hope. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit, notably in Swedish and German courts. While various authorities in Europe have opened investigations of serious international crimes committed in Syria, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for these crimes.

 

(New York) – Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit, notably in Swedish and German courts, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. While various authorities in Europe have opened investigations of serious international crimes committed in Syria, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for these crimes.

The 66-page report, “‘These Are the Crimes We Are Fleeing’: Justice for Syria in Swedish and German Courts,” outlines efforts in Sweden and Germany to investigate and prosecute people implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria. Drawing on interviews with 50 officials and practitioners working on these cases and 45 Syrian refugees in the two countries, Human Rights Watch documented the difficulties German and Swedish investigators and prosecutors face in taking up these types of cases, and the experience of refugees and asylum seekers with the authorities.

“With other avenues for justice currently blocked, criminal investigations in Europe are a beacon of hope for victims of crimes in Syria who have nowhere else to turn,” said Maria Elena Vignoli, Leonard H. Sandler fellow in the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. “As the first two countries to hold trials and convict people for atrocities in Syria, Sweden and Germany are putting war criminals on notice that they will have to pay for their crimes.”

Syrian refugees consistently stressed to Human Rights Watch the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities committed in Syria.

“My brother was killed with 14 bullets by the regime,” said Samira, who lives in Sweden and lost several family members in the war. “All my family died. I saw five children being executed, I saw their heads being cut off. I couldn’t sleep for a week. […] It’s very important to have justice, which will let me feel that I’m human.”

Muhammad, an activist working on behalf of some Syrian victims in Germany, said of the Syrian government: “These people think that the political solution will come and they will be able to escape to Europe. I want them to feel haunted like they’ve haunted people all their life. We need to send a message of hope to victims and to send the message to criminals that they will not escape.”

On September 25, Sweden became the first country to convict a member of the Syrian army for crimes in Syria. The accused, identified through a photo in which he posed with his foot on the chest of a dead victim, was found guilty of violating the dignity of a dead body.

Both Sweden and Germany have elements in place to allow for the successful investigation and prosecution of grave crimes, including comprehensive laws, well-functioning specialized war crimes units, and previous experience with such cases. In addition, due to the large numbers of Syrian asylum seekers and refugees, previously unavailable victims, witnesses, material evidence, and even some suspects are now within the reach of the authorities in these countries.

Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch found that both Sweden and Germany are facing some difficulties.

“The standard challenges associated with pursuing these kinds of cases are compounded by an ongoing conflict in Syria, where there is no access to crime scenes,” Vignoli said. “Swedish and German authorities have to turn elsewhere for information, including from Syrian refugees, people doing similar work in other European countries, UN entities, and nongovernmental groups documenting atrocities in Syria.”

Human Rights Watch found that many Syrian asylum seekers and refugees are not aware of the systems in place to investigate and prosecute grave crimes in Syria, the possibility of their contributing to justice efforts in these countries, or the right of victims to participate in criminal proceedings.

Gathering relevant information from Syrian refugees and asylum seekers has also proved difficult due to their fear of possible retribution against loved ones back home, mistrust of police and government officials based on negative experiences in Syria, and feelings of abandonment by host countries and the international community.

Both Sweden and Germany have systems to protect victims and witnesses in criminal cases. Consistent with fair trial standards, both countries should explore options to increase protections in these cases for witnesses’ families in Syria, Human Rights Watch said.

Because of the difficulties involved, Human Rights Watch found only a small number of cases have been concluded, which do not represent the scale or nature of the abuses suffered by victims in Syria. Most cases have been against low-level members of non-state armed groups opposed to the Syrian government.

In Germany, the majority of cases are brought under terrorism charges rather than for grave international crimes. That could send the message that the authorities’ only focus is to combat domestic threats, Human Rights Watch said. Efforts to pursue terrorism charges should go hand in hand with efforts and resources to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Authorities in both countries are working to address some of these issues, although more needs to be done, Human Rights Watch said. Sweden and Germany should ensure that their war crimes units are adequately resourced and staffed, provide them with ongoing training, and consider new ways to work with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers on their territory through outreach and public information efforts.

“European countries should follow Sweden and Germany’s lead and work to expand these justice efforts for Syrians in Europe,” Vignoli said. “Overall, these cases are not enough on their own and highlight the need for a more comprehensive justice process to address the ongoing impunity in Syria.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

What kind of cases have been brought to trial so far?

To date, seven cases for war crimes in Syria were brought to trial, three in Sweden and four in Germany. These few cases have mostly been against members of the Islamic State [ISIS], Jabhat al-Nusra – an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, and rebel groups. Only one has addressed crimes committed by a member of the Syrian army.

In Sweden and Germany, you can only bring to trial people who are present in your territory. So only low-level people who happen to be present in those countries have been brought to trial so far. The high-level people are still in Syria. But you can preserve and collect evidence for future prosecutions. Also, these countries can potentially issue arrest warrants for alleged perpetrators still in Syria.

These prosecutions are important to send the message that Europe is not a safe haven for war criminals, that if you commit those crimes and come to Europe you will be brought to justice, and that even in the Syrian conflict there are repercussions for these crimes. Syrian refugees can play a key role in helping authorities in Europe build cases against people who are identified as having committed crimes back in Syria.


Justice for Syria is a very long-term project. These cases in Europe are just the first small steps, and we want to see more of them.

What kind of evidence has been used in the current trials?

Many of these cases stemmed from photos and videos depicting the crimes. As far as we know, none of these cases happened because of evidence gathered by victims, although we hope to see more of that as authorities improve their engagement with Syrian refugees. Information provided by Syrian activists has been crucial in at least one of these cases.

Have arrest warrants been issued for people currently in Syria?

Not yet. In Germany, there are two claims that have been brought by victims and nongovernmental organizations against high-level Syrian officials. The federal prosecutors are deciding whether to open an investigation, and if there’s enough evidence, they can issue an arrest warrant for these people in Syria. They can’t be prosecuted until they set foot in Germany, but it does send them a message – if you commit war crimes and come to Germany, you will face justice.

Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit, notably in Swedish and German courts. While various authorities in Europe have opened investigations of serious international crimes committed in Syria, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for these crimes.


Who did you speak to for this report?

We interviewed 45 Syrian refugees in Sweden and Germany. Twenty-two told us they’d been detained in Syrian government facilities and 16 told us they had been tortured while in detention.

Some told us they witnessed widespread torture and killings. Some were also wounded in attacks on their cities.

Why are we asking for justice as opposed to more immediate needs, like better shelter or healthcare?

It’s not a one-or-another question. First, because we believe in human rights and rule of law, there is an obligation to hold those who commit horrible crimes and violate our core values accountable for their actions. Second, lasting peace does not happen without a measure of justice and accountability that address the underlying causes of the conflict. Then there’s the more personal need for justice for these victims. When I asked the Syrians I interviewed why justice was important for them, they gave me very compelling answers.

What did they say?

One of our interviewees was a woman in her 20s from Raqqa, who was held by ISIS fighters. She said she saw Syrian government soldiers fire 14 bullets into her brother and kill him. She also said she watched five children have their heads cut off. “I couldn’t sleep for a week,” she said.  When I asked her about justice, she said, “It’s very important to have justice, which will let me feel that I’m human.”

I also spoke with a man who, while detained in Syria, made a pact with his fellow inmates that the first one to get out would bring their names out, letting their families know what happened to them. They wrote their names on this piece of cloth, and for ink they used blood from their gums – they were so malnourished their gums were bleeding – mixed with rust from the prison. He was the first one to get out and smuggled out the list. He told me, “Having these trials will bring justice to the victims and will deter people [from committing these crimes]. It will send the message that in the end we will hold you responsible.”

What do you want to see happen in Europe when it comes to these cases?

The officials pursuing these cases are doing a great job, considering the challenges. Just to give you an example, in Germany, investigators are swamped with information they get from different sources, including immigration authorities and the general public. As of this summer, they had received more than 4,000 tips, which they analyze to find relevant information for their investigations. Swedish and German investigators and prosecutors need more manpower and money to do their work effectively.

We also found that both Sweden and Germany are having difficulties reaching out to Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. It’s partly because Syrians don’t trust police and government authorities – they’re afraid, they fled horrible crimes and still have families in Syria, and they don’t want to talk openly. And most of them don’t know these cases are even possible. We would like to see better outreach from authorities towards these communities. It allows people to know what’s happening and how to actively participate in working towards justice.

Why is this important now, with the war still ongoing?

Crimes are still being committed on a daily basis, and we need to tell people that this is not okay. They will face the consequences of what they’re doing. One Syrian activist told me about members of the Syrian government, “These people think that the political solution will come and they will be able to escape to Europe. I want them to feel haunted like they’ve haunted people all their life.”

What struck you about your research?

The resilience and strength of people. These people have suffered horrible crimes, they lost everything, yet they still keep going and fighting for justice.

One of the refugees I interviewed was detained when he was 16; he was a child. He was in jail for three years, where he was tortured. He’s this young man now, living in Sweden, who’s very open about his experience. He’s now fluent in Swedish and the week I was there he had organized a talk in a public library to discuss his experience. He looks like your regular 20-something guy, someone who should have regular problems, like with university and love and family. Then he starts telling you about what happened to him and he does it with a smile on his face and you’re completely blown away by how resilient and how strong this person is.

Talking with people like him cemented in me the conviction that we can’t let people who commit these crimes be free. They shouldn’t be able to comfortably live cushy lives in some other country once the conflict is over. Imprisoning criminals deters others from following in their footsteps, and gives victims an important sense of justice.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A lone man crosses Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. The camp population fell from 203,000 during its peak in April 2013 to 80,000 by July 2017. 

© 2015 Hiba Zayadin, Human Rights Watch
Syrians who thought they had escaped their civil war by fleeing to neighboring Jordan have been summarily deported to their war-ravaged country without explanation. Jordan’s government says refugees are being sent back to protect national security. A new Human Rights Watch report shows that whole families, almost without warning, have been caught up in collective expulsions.

Here are some of their stories (the names have been changed to protect them):

“Rouqiya”

The Jordanian officers said they were only calling in Rouqiya’s family for questioning. The 30-year-old woman, who struggles with serious health issues, her husband, and their three children – including their 6-month-old baby – obediently went along, suspecting nothing.

“When we asked them, ‘Where are you taking us?’ They said to us not to worry and that we won’t be returned, we will only be asked some questions at Raba Sarhan – which was originally a UNHCR registration center, but is now also used to house Syrians who are being repatriated. Then we found ourselves in the Naseeb checkpoint in Syria.”

They were never given a reason for their deportation.

“We really weren’t expecting this at all because we haven’t done anything wrong,” she said. “We didn’t even bring anything with us because we were so sure we would go home after questioning.”

The young family, deported in March,  is now stuck in the Dara’a countryside near the border with Jordan. They originally came from Homs, just over a three-hour drive north, but their home there was destroyed. They couldn’t go back. Rouqiya’s health has deteriorated since her deportation, as she and her children now live in a school overcrowded with other displaced people:

“We are staying at a school; there are no houses and the situation is dire. The children are always in a state of fear because of the sound of warplanes above. My medicine is not available here. I need the medicine and baby formula for my child. Because of my illness, I can’t breast-feed her.”

“Raw’a”

When Raw’a’s 22-year-old son was killed in an airstrike in Dara’a, Syria, she naturally wanted to speak to her friends and family back home. “We had been calling friends and contacts back in Syria often in the aftermath of his death. Our communication with Syria increased.”

Jordanian authorities summoned her and her husband twice for interviews to find out how her son had died, and if he had been involved in any fighting. If family members in Syria are part of the fighting, their relatives in Jordan are more likely to be seen as security risks.

The first time was immediately after her son’s death, but the authorities allowed her to stay, so she thought she would be safe in her new life. Then, roughly 10 months later, the second summons came.

“They summoned us again and directly sent us back [to Syria] in a really ugly manner. They did not beat us at the GID [the General Intelligence Directorate], but the treatment was bad. They sent us to our house, told us to take our money, our Syrian documentation and we were immediately sent back to Syria.” Raw’a now lives in the courtyard of a mosque in Jiza, a Syrian town near the Jordanian border. She is in poor health and has another son who needs medical care that is not available in Syria.  

“We are in a really difficult situation here. Now in Jiza, we are staying in the courtyard of the Ali bin Abi Taleb Mosque. There is definite danger and we are always scared because we aren’t used to as dangerous a situation as this. My son has a bad kidney and had undergone three surgeries in Jordan. He is now in need of another really important operation. I am sick too and need immediate treatment.”

It wasn’t just us. Many others were sent back too. Every day they send buses full of people back to Syria.

“Bassam”

A Syrian refugee deported from Jordan

Now her family who are still in Jordan are too afraid to contact Raw’a and her husband. They fear that any calls to Syria may be monitored by Jordanian authorities. They try to avoid being noticed, Raw’a said. “They try not to go out as much anymore and they reduce their calls to Syria.”

“Bassam”

When he first spoke to Human Rights Watch after being deported from Jordan in March, 20-year-old Bassam was heading east with his family along the Jordanian border going toward the remote desert location known as “the Berm,” which Human Rights Watch has reported on in the past. We stayed in touch with him as he and his family made their way north from there [OK?] to the Syrian border with Turkey

“The reason for my deportation is non-existent,” he said. Four years earlier, Bassam, his parents and siblings had been smuggled out of the Zaatari camp for displaced people in Jordan and had been living without any problems in the town of Ma’an. One day the police summoned them. “They told us to go to the [Zaatari] camp, and get our papers ready and that we’ll be sent back to Ma’an after, but instead they sent us to Syria. All our stuff is in Ma’an.”

 “The UNHCR had no idea about what was happening to us and the police officers refused to allow us to call them,” he said. He said he was surprised  at being sent back to Syria, where the war meant ever-present danger for him and his family: “It wasn’t just us. Many others were sent back too. Every day they send buses full of people back to Syria.”

He said that he and his family were expelled to Syria in a caravan of three buses filled with families. He said he knew people who had been killed in airstrikes after being deported. “I swear to God, just two days ago, a guy and his son were killed near the Nasseeb border crossing.” He was desperate to keep his family safe, which was why he was trying to make his way to Turkey.

On July 2, he told  Human Rights Watch they had made it to Turkey.

“Our journey was terribly hard. We suffered.”

It’s a trip none of them would have undertaken had Jordan not deported them.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am