Lawyer Anwar Al-Bunni’s speech at the 31st meeting of the Network for the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes and the Criminal Justice across borders, in The Hague 6-4-2022
Dear Madam /Sir
want to say that I am very happy to be here with you today and would like to
thank you for the invitation.
To begin with, I would like to provide you with
some information regarding the Syrian context so that you understand the
meaning of the Koblenz verdict for us Syrians.
Since Assad the father came into power, he
co-opted the judicial system. He amended the formation of the Supreme Judicial
Council through the 1971 constitution, making the judicial
council subordinate to the Syrian regime and through these amendments
controlling it. The justice system in Syria lost its independence,
impartiality, and integrity by employing only those who were loyal to the
The Syrian regime and expelling those who opposed it. Assad, the father, granted
himself complete constitutional immunity for all the crimes he allegedly
Hafez al Assad issued laws granting complete immunity
to his security, military, and police personnel from any prosecutions for
crimes committed by them in the course of their work and suspended filing any
public rights cases against them by obtaining approval from the head of the
State Security Department for cases that are related to security personal, and
the approval of the Minister of Defense for cases that are related to the
military personal, military security personnel, and police and political security
I mentioned this legal context for you to
understand what it means for us as Syrians to trial Syrian state criminals who
we never thought we would be able to trial with the full impunity they had.
Throughout the Assad family’s fifty-year criminal
history, Syrians were always victims or possible victims and were unable to
report or prosecute any violation or crime committed against them. Syrians were
unable to hold criminals accountable and the law was never a means of justice
for Syrian, but rather a means of punishment against them. We can understand
why all legal amendments, including the recent law on the criminalization of
torture issued by the very perpetrators of torture is useless as long as the
perpetrators are still protected from punishment.
The Assad criminal regime has since withheld the power
until 2011, committed major human rights violations, including suppressing the
freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests, torture, and enforced disappearance of
thousands of Syrians. He committing as well war crimes, one of which is the Palmyra
Prison massacre in 1980, when the Syrian army killed more than
800 unarmed prisoners in their prison cells in Palmyra Military Prison, as well
as the Hama massacre in 1982, when the Syrian regime’s army
destroyed an entire city, killing more than 40,000 civilians
and burying them in mass graves. Almost 5,000 of these individuals are still
missing today and their families do not know anything about their whereabouts.
Since 2011, the Assad regime has committed crimes
against humanity and horrific war crimes, whereases more than half a
million Syrians were arrested and tortured, 150,000
of whom are either still forcibly disappeared, or killed due to either the
conditions in detention centers, under torture, or with other means.
These crimes include crimes committed in the state
hospitals, by either doctors or nurses against more than 80,000
victims. according to our data and based on witness testimonies. The Assad
the regime has used arbitrary arrest and torture as means to intimidate and
subjugate the peaceful Syrian population that went to the streets in 2011
demanding freedom and democracy.
This criminal regime, which forcibly displaced
more than half of the Syrian population, started committing the crime of
demographic change by importing mercenaries who fought with the regime its the
war against Syrian civilians from Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The Syrian
regime naturalized these individuals and put its hand on Syrian civilians’ real
estate through unjust laws and regulations. One of the most famous laws in Law
No. 10/2018 was directed toward replacing forcibly internally and externally
More than 20% of Syria’s
infrastructure was completely destroyed and 60% was partially
destroyed. Thousands of civilians were killed by bombing residential neighborhoods,
schools, hospitals, and popular markets using shelling, missiles, artillery,
and barrel bombs, and using internationally banned chemical weapons against
Syrians, which has led to the killing of thousands more.
The investigation committee of the Organization
for the Prohibition of the Use of Chemical Weapons has proven the regime’s use
of chemical weapons through three reports with confirmed evidence, proving as
well that both the criminal regimes in Russia and in Iran have participated in
these crimes to a large extent.
Syrian organizations have made a great effort, and
many activists have paid their lives to document these crimes and deliver
evidence of the true story behind these attacks. The International Commission
of Inquiry of the Human Rights Council has documented tens of thousands of
evidence and testimonies of these crimes.
The Independent, International, and impartial
Mechanism did a great effort in collecting, analyzing, and archiving this
the evidence so that it can be presented before you.
Some Syrians and victims of human rights
atrocities were not well informed about the very important steps that took
place previously, such as the opening of an investigation by the German Public
Prosecutor against high-ranking officials of the Syrian regime, including the
head of the regime, on charges the amount to committing crimes against
humanity, after submitting four judicial files before him in 2017.
Other prosecution authorities that opened similar
investigations were the public prosecutors in Austria (2018), Sweden, Norway,
and France (2016). That has led to the issuance of international arrest
warrants against high-ranking state officials by the German Public Prosecutor
and the French Public Prosecutor. However, until today Syrians did not perceive
tangible results in terms of arresting war criminals or stopping them from
committing crimes in Syria. We very much hope that the number of arrest
warrants issued by all the prosecutors dealing with these cases will increase.
The beginning of the first worldwide trial against
Syrian state officials in Koblenz and the verdict that followed, constituted a
great deal of satisfaction for some Syrians, especially for victims of Al
Khatib branch, because they experienced real justice. This, as I said, was a dream
because of the entrenchment of the culture of impunity in the consciousness of
This satisfaction was evident among victims when
they were presenting their testimonies. They could not believe that for the
first time the justice system was to protect their rights and not convict
their actions. This was more apparent when the verdict was issued and created a
historical momentum for Syrians to build on.
The trial and judgment had a huge positive impact
on the Syrians inside and outside Syria. Hope and light appeared in the dark
surroundings in which they lived, after a lot of frustration, despair and
hopelessness for ten years, and after they continued to watch criminals
committing crimes in front of the whole world without any real movement and saw
the international community Completely ignored the matter of detainees and
forcibly disappeared persons.
Despite the presence of Caesar’s photos and the
documentation that exposed the endless criminality committed by criminals,
Syrians did not witness any reaction or movement to find solutions to this
You can imagine the value of a verdict against
criminals who were perceived by Syrians as an untouchable deity. There were
some critics of the logistical terms of the court hearings, that could have
been remedied, such as the lack of translation into Arabic so that Syrians
would be able to follow up continuously on the process, and the lack of an
audio recording of the trial due to its paramount importance as a historical
event in every sense of the word.
It is the first trial of the Syrian regime’s
officials in their official capacity, and it is the first trial by a national
judiciary for crimes against humanity that were committed in Syria, and it is
also, the first time that a national judiciary has put Syrian state-officials
criminals under trial. It’s the first time that arrest warrants are issued
against senior officials in the Syrian regime that is still, until today, in
power, for committing crimes that amount to crimes against humanity. It is also
the first time in history that a justice process has begun before solutions to
the crisis is reached.
The trial and verdict also constituted a great
impact on Syrian perpetrators and alleged perpetrators as well as Assad’s
regime loyalists, in understanding the impunity that they thought would
providing them with safety in committing more crimes is now cracked.
We have received support from Syrians outside
Syria, and we have secretly received messages of support from Syrians inside
Syria resides in regime-held areas as well as other areas in Syria. This
the positive impact was also demonstrated by the significant increase in the number
of victims who were encouraged to come forward and give their testimonies on
crimes committed against them, and to engage in the cause of justice after the
trial and the verdict restored hope for them. This decision gave hope, removed
despair, frustration, and loss of confidence through peaceful means, and
removed the feeling of revenge from some Syrians in light of a possible justice
that can potentially restore some of their rights.
This motivates us as Syrian organizations, and as
a human rights center, to make more efforts to keep pace with this hope and
push it forward and achieve more results. As part of these efforts, the Center,
with funding and support from the German Foreign Ministry, trained 30
Syrian lawyers in Europe in collecting evidence, documenting testimonies, and
communicating with lawyers and European organizations to cooperate with you as
prosecutors and police units in preparing files and in prosecuting criminals,
especially those who are currently residing in Europe, whose number we estimate
goes up to 1,000 who belong to different factions
and non-state armed groups.
Most of these criminals are Syrian regime
officials. These are all efforts that Syrians were determined to carry on and
stem from a respect for the principle of justice as a supra-political value,
and the security of your countries, as well as the security of Syrians residing
in Europe and in Syria, and ultimately for a future Syria.
The Center has also conducted, over the years,
field research on the perpetrators of crimes against humanity (including forced
displacement and demographic change), including by individuals, military
militia, and armies, and we have researched these crime’s connection with the
laws and strategies of the Syrian regime.
To achieve this, there are some obstacles
that we hope, to overcome, in cooperation with you:
1- We need more cooperation between Syrian
organizations, especially Syrian lawyers, with the public prosecution
authorities and the police units, since Syrian victims are still afraid of the
police and they do not have complete confidence during justice processes.
Here, the role of Syrian lawyers is to bridge the gap and to build the trust
between the victims and the police, and the Syrian lawyers are the ones who can
understand the context, analyze, and evaluate the testimony and the witness’s
2- We need more efforts to provide psychological
support to witnesses and victims who need it most.
3- We also strongly need to provide protection for
witnesses, victims, and their families who are still in Syria. We have
witnessed several cases in which the regime threatened witnesses’ families to
prevent them from submitting their testimony or retracting it. This protection
can be secured by protecting the names and personalities of witnesses and
victims before the court, and this requires amending procedures in some
countries to allow the witness to keep his/her identity and identity
4- To facilitate and support access to the
European Union for influential and expert witnesses, especially when there is
a real threat to their lives.
5- To accelerate investigation procedures and to
issue arrest warrants because of its impact on the victims, and its importance
in not allowing the escape of suspects, and keeping the victims and lawyers
well-informed of the developments of the investigation.
The verdict of Kobelnz trial does not concern
Syrians only, or justice for Syria, but rather the criminals all over the
world, who were safe from punishment either because of laws they established
themselves or because they were guaranteed by a member state of the Security
Council that vetoed every decision by the security council for their favor
preventing them from being held accountable.
After the Koblenz trial, all these criminals
became concerned, because the justice process was no longer under their political
control or that of their allies.
If the criminals felt that they would not escape
punishment, they would not have committed or continued committing their crimes,
If politicians around the world took serious actions when the Syrian regime
committed its horrific crimes against the Syrian people, or stopped Putin’s
from committing his crimes in Syria, Ukraine, and in Georgia, Putin and the
Syrian regime would not have felt reassured to continue and expand their
The verdict of the Koblenz trial is a message to
all tyrants and criminals that the time of impunity is about to end. I firmly
believe that the verdict of Koblenz trial has contributed to saving the lives
of thousands of potential victims in Syria and in Russia.
Thank you for your attention and patience
Anwar Al Bunni
Head of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and