UN hails landmark conviction of senior Syrian official

  • Syrian women Yasemine, center, who lost her father and brother in Syria, reacts after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    Syrian women Yasemine, center, who lost her father and brother in Syria, reacts after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • The defendant, Anwar Raslan, center, stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP)

    The defendant, Anwar Raslan, center, stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP) Associated Press

  • Syrian woman Yasmen Almashan holds the pictures of her five in Syria died brothers before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.

    Syrian woman Yasmen Almashan holds the pictures of her five in Syria died brothers before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. Associated Press

  • Syrian woman Yasmen Almashan holds the pictures of her five in Syria died brothers before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.

    Syrian woman Yasmen Almashan holds the pictures of her five in Syria died brothers before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. Associated Press

  • Syrian woman Yasmen Almashan holds the pictures of her five in Syria died brothers before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.

    Syrian woman Yasmen Almashan holds the pictures of her five in Syria died brothers before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. Associated Press

  • People line up in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.

    People line up in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. Associated Press

  • From left, Syrian women Samaa Mahmoud, Mariam Alhallak and Yasmen Almashan hold pictures of relatives who died in Syria, before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    From left, Syrian women Samaa Mahmoud, Mariam Alhallak and Yasmen Almashan hold pictures of relatives who died in Syria, before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • The defendant gestures before the pronouncement of the verdict in the courtroom of the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

    The defendant gestures before the pronouncement of the verdict in the courtroom of the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP) Associated Press

  • The defendant stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

    The defendant stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP) Associated Press

  • From left, Syrian women Samaa Mahmoud, Mariam Alhallak and Yasmen Almashan hold pictures of relatives who died in Syria, before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    From left, Syrian women Samaa Mahmoud, Mariam Alhallak and Yasmen Almashan hold pictures of relatives who died in Syria, before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • People line up in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.

    People line up in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. Associated Press

  • Syrian lawyer Mazen Darwish gives a statement after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    Syrian lawyer Mazen Darwish gives a statement after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • Syrian women stay together after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    Syrian women stay together after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • Syrian women hold banners after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. German slogan reads: 'more than 130.000 are still violently missing in Syria'

    Syrian women hold banners after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. German slogan reads: 'more than 130.000 are still violently missing in Syria' Associated Press

  • Syrian women Yasemine, who lost her father and brother in Syria, reacts after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    Syrian women Yasemine, who lost her father and brother in Syria, reacts after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • Syrian women Yasemine, who lost her father and brother in Syria, reacts after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    Syrian women Yasemine, who lost her father and brother in Syria, reacts after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • Syrian human rights activist and lawyer Anwar al-Bunni gives a statement after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    Syrian human rights activist and lawyer Anwar al-Bunni gives a statement after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • Syrian women hold banners after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    Syrian women hold banners after the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • Court speaker Anne-Christina Brodoefel talks to the media at the court in Koblenz, Germany, after the verdict in the Syria torture trial on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict.

    Court speaker Anne-Christina Brodoefel talks to the media at the court in Koblenz, Germany, after the verdict in the Syria torture trial on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. Associated Press

  • The defendant, Anwar Raslan, adjusts a microphone in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP)

    The defendant, Anwar Raslan, adjusts a microphone in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP) Associated Press

  • The defendant, Anwar Raslan, stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP)

    The defendant, Anwar Raslan, stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP) Associated Press

  • The defendant, Anwar Raslan, right, stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP)

    The defendant, Anwar Raslan, right, stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP) Associated Press

  • The defendant, Anwar Raslan, arrives in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP)

    The defendant, Anwar Raslan, arrives in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP) Associated Press

  • The defendant, Anwar Raslan, right, stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP)

    The defendant, Anwar Raslan, right, stands in the courtroom before the pronouncement of the verdict at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. A German court has convicted the former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago. The verdict Thursday in the landmark trial has been keenly anticipated by Syrians who suffered abuse or lost relatives in the country's long-running conflict. (Thomas Frey/Pool via AP) Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/13/2022 1:13 PM

KOBLENZ, Germany -- A former Syrian secret police officer was convicted by a German court Thursday of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago, a ruling the top United Nations human rights official described as 'úhistoric.'Ě

Anwar Raslan is the highest-ranking Syrian official so far convicted of the charge. The verdict was keenly anticipated by those who suffered abuse or lost relatives at the hands of President Bashar Assad's government in Syria's long-running conflict.

 

'úThis trial cast a much-needed, renewed spotlight on the kinds of sickening torture, cruel and truly inhuman treatment '" including abject sexual violence '" that countless Syrians were subjected to in detention facilities," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said.

"It is a landmark leap forward in the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations for the serious human rights violations perpetrated in Syria over more than a decade.'Ě

The Koblenz state court concluded that the defendant was in charge of interrogations at a facility in the Syrian city of Douma known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251, where suspected opposition protesters were detained.

The court sentenced the 58-year-old to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

'úThis day, this verdict is important for all Syrians who have suffered and are still suffering from the Assad regime's crimes,'Ě said Ruham Hawash, a survivor of Branch 251 who testified in the trial.

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"This verdict is only a beginning and we have a long way to go '" but for us affected people, this trial and today's ruling are a first step towards freedom, dignity and justice,'Ě she said.

German prosecutors alleged that Raslan supervised the 'úsystematic and brutal torture'Ě of more than 4,000 prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012, resulting in the deaths of at least 58 people. Judges ruled that there was evidence to hold him responsible for 27 deaths.

A junior officer, Eyad al-Gharib, was convicted last year of being an accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz court to 4¬Ĺ years in prison.

Both men were arrested in Germany in 2019, years after seeking asylum in the country.

Like al-Gharib, Raslan planned to appeal his conviction, his lawyers said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

'úUltimately ... Mr. Raslan has been convicted in the regime's place,'Ě his counsel Yorck Fratzky told reporters.

A court spokeswoman, Anne Brodoefel, said judges had determined as part of their verdict that the Syrian government carried out a 'úprolonged attack against its own population'Ě from April 2011 onward with the aim of quashing the popular uprising.

But the court concluded that events at Branch 251 were 'úsignificantly determined'Ě by the defendant, meaning he bore personal responsibility for crimes that occurred there, she said.

Victims and human rights groups have said they hope the verdict in the 19-month trial will be a first step toward justice for countless people who have been unable to file criminal complaints against officials in Syria or before the International Criminal Court.

Since Russia and China have blocked efforts in the U.N. Security Council to refer cases to The Hague-based tribunal, countries such as Germany that apply the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes will increasingly become the venue for such trials, experts say.

'úWe are starting to see the fruits of a determined push by courageous survivors, activists and others to achieve justice for horrific atrocities in Syria's network of prisons,'Ě said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.

'úThe verdict is a breakthrough for Syrian victims and the German justice system in cracking the wall of impunity,'Ě she added. "Other countries should follow Germany's lead and actively bolster efforts to prosecute serious crimes in Syria.'Ě

The trial is the first of its kind worldwide and other courts may cite the verdict and evidence heard in Koblenz, said Patrick Kroker, a lawyer with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. The group represented 14 victims who under German law were able to take part in the proceedings as co-plaintiffs.

'úThe goal remains to bring senior Assad associates, such as former Air Force Intelligence chief Jamil Hassan, to justice for their crimes,'Ě said Kroker. Germany issued an international arrest warrant for Hassan in 2018, but bringing him and other senior Syrian officials to trial will be difficult, as the country does not extradite its citizens.

Still, the European Union's judicial cooperation organization, Eurojust said the ruling 'úwill leave a lasting mark on international criminal justice.'Ě

It noted that photographs of alleged torture victims smuggled out of Syria by a former police officer, who goes by the alias of Caesar, were a key part of the evidence against Raslan.

'úThis conviction has put state authorities on notice '" no matter where you are or how senior you may be, if you perpetrate torture or other serious human rights violations, you will be held accountable sooner or later, at home or abroad,'Ě Bachelet said, the U.N. rights chief.

Germany's justice minister, Marco Buschmann, called on other countries to follow what he called the 'úpioneering work'Ě performed by his country's legal system.

'úCrimes against humanity mustn't remain unpunished. No matter where they are committed, no matter by whom,'Ě said Buschmann.

Human rights experts said it was significant that the Koblenz court had deemed the allegations of sexual violence to be among the crimes against humanity Raslan was convicted for. However the judges didn't convict him over the enforced disappearances, meaning those will have to be prosecuted separately in future proceedings.

Conservative estimates put the number of those detained or forcibly disappeared in Syria at 149,000, more than 85% of them at the hands of the Syrian government, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Most disappeared or were detained soon after peaceful protests erupted in March 2011 against Assad's government, which responded to the rallies with a brutal crackdown.

The Syrian government denies it is holding any political prisoners, labeling its opposition terrorists. After battlefield wins, it has negotiated limited prisoner exchanges with various armed groups, which families say offer partial solutions for a very small number of people.

There have already been several convictions in Europe of Syrians accused of committing war crimes against members of Syria's armed forces.

___

Jordans reported from Berlin. Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

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