Anwar R., a former Syrian colonel was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison by a German court in Koblenz on Thursday, in what prosecutors said was the first trial of its kind worldwide.
The former intelligence officer and interrogator, identified only as Anwar R, was tried in Germany under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of possible war crimes committed by foreigners in other states.
The defendant was accused of crimes against humanity in 2011 and 2012, in the early stages of the Syrian civil war.
"The prisoner was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, torture, aggravated deprivation of liberty, rape and sexual assault," the higher Regional Court in Koblenz stated in a press release.
He was convicted of hostage-taking in two cases and sexual abuse of prisoners in three cases, the court said.
The landmark trial into state-sanctioned torture began in April 2020, with two defendants in the dock.
In February 2021, the younger co-defendant was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for aiding and abetting a crime against humanity.
Defendant denied charges
Anwar R, 58, throughout the trial denied committing torture or giving instructions for others to commit torture.
The closely watched trial could set a precedent for future trials of Syrian officials who committed crimes during the civil war.
“Despite all the shortcomings of international criminal justice, Anwar R’s conviction shows what the principle of universal jurisdiction can achieve – and that such trials are in fact feasible in Germany and Europe,” said Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the independent rights group the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch had described it as a "decisive moment for survivors of torture in Syria."