Universal Jurisdiction: Berlin Court Convicts Former Pro-Government Syrian Militia Man Over War Crimes Committed In 2014

Universal Jurisdiction: Berlin Court Convicts Former Pro-Government Syrian Militia Man Over War Crimes Committed In 2014

On 23rd February 2023, a regional court in Berlin convicted 55-year-old Moafak. D (Media name in line with German privacy rules) for perpetrating a war crime of killing and seriously injuring civilians, in the 2014 attack at Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.[1] The German’s court conviction comes as a part of efforts by the German prosecutors to bring accountability for international crimes committed during the Syrian civil war. 

Incident- Allegations against Moafak. D

Moafak D. was a member of an armed Palestinian militia that had supported and was loyal to the Bashir-Al-Assad regime during the Syrian civil war. On March 23, 2014, Moafak D. was accused of standing in Yarmouk’s main street (grew out of the largest Palestinian refugee camp) and fired a rocket propelled grenade into the crowd of civilians, which had killed 7 persons, and seriously injured 3 persons including a six-year old child. [2] The deceased civilians were waiting to receive food packages from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. The Syrian regime had previously placed the Yarmouk region under complete embargo cutting off fuel, food, medical and other essential supplies. The motive of the grenade attack was revenge for the death of his nephew, who was killed in the battle with the Free Syrian Army, two days prior to the grenade attack. [3]   

In 2017, Moafak D. came to Berlin with his wife and three children as a refugee through a family reunion program. [4] Subsequently in August 2021, he was arrested by German police after the Syrian Center for Legal and Research Studies documented the testimonies from witnesses and submitted the evidence to the prosecutor's office through European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). [5]

War Crime Trial Proceedings before the Berlin Court 

Since 2022, Moafak D. has been on trial before the State Security Chamber of the Berlin Higher Regional Court. The German prosecutor had charged Moafak D. of war crime (German Code of Crimes against International Law), murder and attempt to murder (German Criminal Code). [6] During the trial, prosecution had called upon eight witnesses to testify before the court, to substantiate the individual criminal responsibility of the accused in the 2014 attack against the civilians. On the other hand, the defense had produced the niece of the accused as witness for alibi defense. The witness testified that the accused was at the hospital taking treatment for his bullet injury at the time of the incident.[7]

However, the Berlin Court on 23rd February 2023, held Moafak D. guilty of war crimes of killing and seriously injuring civilians, and sentenced the accused to 15 years of imprisonment without possibility of parole. The verdict can be appealed.

Background- German Court’s Universal Jurisdiction and Efforts to Bring Justice for International Crime committed in Syria

Germany is one of several countries in the world that has universal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute international crimes regardless of nationality of suspects or territorial jurisdiction with the crimes. The trial and conviction of Moafak D is the third trial of its kind in the German Court under universal jurisdiction to hold individual perpetrators accountable for the international crimes committed in Syria during the civil war that began in 2011. [8] Since 2002, the German judiciary had established specialized units to handle cases related to international crimes such as war crime, crime against humanity and genocide. [9] In the last couple of years, German prosecutors had been pursuing universal jurisdiction cases against the State actors and other individuals responsible for international crimes committed in Syria by invoking universal jurisdiction. Previously, the German court had convicted Anwar R. for committing in the crime against humanity of torture. [10] This pattern of universal jurisdiction in Germany is a response to the absence of international criminal accountability through International Criminal Court and inability of the Security Council referral of the situation to the ICC, due to the veto of Russia and China. [11]

Citation Sources and Further Readings 

  1. Associated Press (February 23, 2023). German court convicts man over deadly 2014 attack in Syria’, ABC News, Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/german-court-convicts-man-deadly-2014-attack-syria-97415996
  2. Hannah El-Hitami (February 14, 2023). Syrian war crime trial in Berlin: a late alibi for defense, JUSTICEINFO.NET, Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://www.justiceinfo.net/en/112606-syrian-war-crime-trial-berlin-late-alibi-defense.html
  3. Hannah El-Hitami (January 9, 2023). Patrick Kroker: “They saw injuries nobody could have survived”, JUSTICEINFO.NET, Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://www.justiceinfo.net/en/110948-patrick-kroker-saw-injuries-nobody-could-have-survived.html
  4. Correspondent, (February 23, 2023). Germany sentences Syria man to life over war crimes he committed in 2014, Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20230223-germany-sentences-syria-man-to-life-over-war-crimes-he-committed-in-2014/ 
  5. Anwar Al-Bunni & Joud Hasan (February 28, 2023). Transitional Justice Is a Long Process, Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://www.rosalux.de/en/news/id/50033/transitional-justice-is-a-long-process
  6. General Public Prosecutor of the German Federal Supreme Court (April 14, 2022),Charges filed against a Suspected Member of the “Free Palestine Movement” Militia on Counts of War Crimes, Retrieved 13th March 2023 from https://www.generalbundesanwalt.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/EN/aktuelle/Pressemitteilung-vom-14-04-2022-Englisch.html
  7. Hannah El-Hitami (February 14, 2023). Syria: Berlin prosecutors urge life sentence in war crimes trial, JUSTICEINFO.NET, Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://www.justiceinfo.net/en/112344-syria-berlin-prosecutors-urge-life-sentence-war-crimes-trial.html
  8. Human Rights Watch (2014), The Legal Framework for Universal Jurisdiction in Germany, Human Rights Watch, Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/IJ0914German_0.pdf
  9. Human Rights Watch (2020) Seeking Justice for Syria: How an Alleged Syrian Intelligence Officer was Put on Trial in Germany, Human Rights Watch, Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://www.hrw.org/feature/2022/01/06/seeking-justice-for-syria/how-an-alleged-intelligence-officer-was-put-on-trial-in-germany
  10. Human Rights Watch (May 22, 2014), UN Security Council: Vetoes Betray Syrian Victims, Human Rights Watch  Retrieved 13th March 2023, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/22/un-security-council-vetoes-betray-syrian-victims