Syrian refugees living in Norway have made a request to the local authorities and police to investigate the allegations of atrocities, war crimes and human rights violations committed by the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad during the country’s ongoing civil war.
Five survivors of torture inflicted by the regime have filed sworn statements regarding what they witnessed and underwent in over a dozen prisons in the vast network created by Syria’s security services. They provided evidence linking their experience and mistreatment to seventeen high-ranking officials in the Syrian government, who they named.
One of the survivors, known only as Mira in order to protect family still in Syria, detailed the continued legacy of their experience: “I am still suffering from the effects of the torture… For the past eight years, I can’t get even two hours of sleep a night. Even with all the sedatives and painkillers, I still just relive what happened in the prisons, hour by hour.”
The atrocities that have been committed in Syria’s prisons include rape, extrajudicial killings, pulling fingernails out, electrocution, hanging victims by their wrists for long periods, keeping prisoners in stress positions, and beating and flogging, usually on the soles of the feet.
The refugees’ move comes just weeks after German prosecutors charged two former Syrian secret service officers with crimes against humanity for their participation in such atrocities, marking a historic moment in that it was the first trial over Syria’s state-sponsored torture to be held anywhere in the world. Those two Syrians had gone to Germany as refugees but were arrested after a similar dossier to the one in Norway was handed over by campaigners who presented evidence of their identities and crimes.
War crimes investigations that have previously been conducted by the Norwegian authorities had focused on criminals who had settled in the country after committing the atrocities elsewhere. Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal from the Norwegian Helsinki committee, which has given support to this case, told the Britain’s Guardian: “We are asking the Norwegian authorities to do something they have not done before. But we are convinced we are not asking them to do something impossible.”
Due to Norwegian law not allowing trials in absentia, it is thought that the best result that the Syrian refugees can hope for is that, after their investigations, the police will issue international arrest warrants for the people named in the dossier.
“Catching [the criminals] is not my target now,” explained Anwar Al-Bunni, a Syrian human rights lawyer who was imprisoned many times before escaping the country. “My first aim is to send a message of hope to victims – ‘someone cares about you getting justice’ — and then I want the criminals who committed these crimes, who feel comfortable and think they have impunity, to know their position will not protect them.”
Al-Bunni added that he is optimistic about proceedings across Europe, even if some countries are slow off the mark. “What happens in one country pushes the others,” he told the Guardian.