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.
The four women and three men were held in various facilities in Damascus, Aleppo and Hama between April 2011 and August 2013, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a Berlin-based legal group supporting them, said on Thursday.
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 al-Assad and head of the air force intelligence services until 2019.
Hassan is already the subject of international arrest warrants 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 al-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.
The indictment – about 100 pages long – included details of what happened to anti-government, opposition activists after they were brought to Branch 251 of military intelligence in Damascus.
The methods of interrogation and torture listed included being hung in stress positions from the wrists, being beaten by metal rods and electric cables, as well as electrocution and sexual violence.
Syria’s war, which started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced nearly half the country’s pre-conflict population.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based 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, adding that several thousand people have died over the same period in prisons run by rebel groups.