Germany sentences man to life in prison for war crimes in Syria | International

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The Berlin Court of Appeals has sentenced a man to life imprisonment for war crimes committed in Syria in March 2014. The court finds him guilty of throwing a grenade at a group of civilians who were collecting humanitarian aid packages in Damascus . The man, stateless but considered a Syrian-Palestinian, worked for the forces of Bashar al-Assad.

The trial lasted 32 sessions during which nine eyewitnesses to what happened, including the two plaintiffs in the case, testified. The victims' lawyers tried to get the court to consider the attack a crime against humanity, but ultimately both the prosecutor and the court have dismissed it. The sentence corroborates a penalty imposed by a court of first instance that the prisoner had appealed.

The man, Moafak D., of whom only his first name and last initial are known in compliance with German data protection laws, was arrested in Germany in August 2021. He had arrived years earlier, in 2017, with his wife and three of his children, after a family reunification with another of his children, an unaccompanied minor who had previously emigrated.

This is the third process with which Germany prosecutes the abuses committed by the Bashar al-Assad regime, and the second to be resolved, after another court sentenced a former colonel of the Syrian intelligence services to life imprisonment in January 2022. for crimes against humanity. These processes give hope to many of the 800,000 Syrians residing in Germany that justice will finally be served after attempts to establish an international tribunal for Syria failed. With the arrival from 2015 of more than a million asylum seekers to Germany, most of them Syrians, the testimonies of the atrocities have multiplied that allow the culprits to be prosecuted.

Moafak D. worked in Yarmouk, a former refugee camp for Palestinians turned into a district of Damascus, the Syrian capital. The court finds it proven that in March 2014 he fired a grenade at a group of civilians who were collecting humanitarian aid packages from the United Nations. At that time, the population of Yarmouk had been suffering from an embargo for months, preventing food, medicine and other supplies from reaching the area. The now convicted man was a member of one of the pro-regime militias that controlled the population. International agencies and humanitarian aid NGOs warned of the situation of famine and extreme poverty in this area, with serious cases of child malnutrition.

During the trial there has been talk of a personal motive that could have led him to commit the murder. The day before, one of his nephews had been killed in a clash with rebel militias of the FSA (Free Syrian Army), so he might have wanted to take revenge against civilians in that way.

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The sentence has also pointed out that it is very likely that there were more victims, although it has not been proven. The court considers that with the four deceased people who have been able to corroborate it is enough to reach the maximum sentence that they have finally imposed.

The High Court of Berlin that has sentenced the militiaman has been based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows judging serious crimes in courts of third countries. Since 2002, Germany has been one of the European states with a broader interpretation of what is considered universal justice, which allows it, for example, to try those accused of crimes against humanity without the need for German citizens to be among the victims, as required by other countries of the European Union.

Given the seriousness of the facts committed by the convicted person, the court has denied the possibility that Given the seriousness of the facts, the Berlin Court of Appeals has also denied the possibility that Moafak D. will be released after he turns 15 in imprisonment, as permitted in some cases by German law.

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