Syrians file complaint in Germany over sex abuse in Assad's jails

The plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse named nine senior Syrian government and air force intelligence officials; pictured June 4, 2020 is presiding judge Anne Kerber before a separate trial against two Syrian alleged former intelligence officers accused of crimes against humanity

Seven Syrians who allegedly suffered or witnessed rape and sexual abuse in detention centres under President Bashar al-Assad's government have submitted a criminal complaint to prosecutors in Germany, an NGO supporting them said Thursday.

The four women and three men were held in various detention centres in Damascus, Aleppo and Hama between April 2011 and August 2013, said the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a Berlin-based legal group.

They were all victims or witnesses of torture and sexual violence, including rape, "electrical shocks to the genitals... and forced abortion", the ECCHR said.

The plaintiffs named nine senior Syrian government and air force intelligence officials in their complaint, including Jamil Hassan, a former close associate of Assad and head of the air force intelligence services until 2019.

Hassan is already the subject of an international arrest warrant from Germany and France on suspicion of crimes against humanity.

The German federal prosecutor's office in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe confirmed it had received the complaint on Wednesday.

Sexual and gender-based violence in Syrian detention facilities "were and continue to be part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population" since the Syrian war started in 2011, according to the ECCHR.

"I want the international community and judicial authorities to know what we went through just because we are women," one of the victims was cited as saying in a press release.

In April, the first court case worldwide over state-sponsored torture by the Assad government opened in Germany.

The two defendants in the case are being tried on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Syria's civil war, which started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half the country's pre-conflict population.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group estimates that at least 100,000 people have died from torture or as a result of horrific conditions in government prisons.

Half a million people have gone through Syrian jails since 2011, it says.

Several thousand people have died over the same period in prisons run by jihadists or other rebel groups, according to the Observatory.

The plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse named nine senior Syrian government and air force intelligence officials; pictured June 4, 2020 is presiding judge Anne Kerber before a separate trial against two Syrian alleged former intelligence officers accused of crimes against humanity