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10 May 22

The Syrian war-crimes trial that opened at a court in Koblenz in late April 2020 is the most important of several cases prosecuted since 2002 on the principle of “universal jurisdiction.” This means that the defendants have been charged with human rights violations so egregious they may be tried in German courts even if the victims and perpetrators are not German citizens and the crimes did not occur on German soil. The case sets a precedent: it is the first such prosecution involving crimes against humanity brought against officials from a government still in power.

Deborah Amos explains why this trial is such an important German story and how it may change the way war criminals are prosecuted. In addition, she puts the trial in context at a time when U.N.-backed international tribunals have been stalled because of conflicting interests on the Security Council, where Russia and China have blocked every attempt to hold the perpetrators of Syrian war crimes accountable.

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