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Investigators in Germany and Sweden are leading the way in attempting to bring war crime prosecutions relating to the six-year civil war in Syria, human rights campaigners have said.
The two countries were praised for having “elements in place to allow for the successful investigation and prosecution of grave crime”.
According to Human Rights Watch, the New York-based campaigning group, both countries had a mix of “comprehensive laws, well-functioning specialised war crimes units and previous experience with such cases”. Germany and Sweden also had relatively high numbers of Syrian asylum seekers and refugees, which meant that “witnesses, material evidence and even some suspects are now within the reach of the authorities in these countries”.
The organisation pointed out that this week Sweden became the first country to convict a member of the Syrian army for crimes in Syria. The accused, who was identified through a photograph in which he posed with his foot on the chest of a dead victim, was found guilty of violating the dignity of a dead body.
However, Human Rights Watch also expressed concern over some of the legal procedures being used. For example, it said that in Germany, the majority of cases were brought under terrorism charges rather than for grave international crimes.
“That could send the message that the authorities’ only focus is to combat domestic threats,” the organisation said. “Efforts to pursue terrorism charges should go hand in hand with efforts and resources to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”