The Syrian Civil War has been going on since 2011, and we’re just now learning about some of the crimes that have since been committed. German prosecutors invoked the principle for universal jurisdiction to bring the perpetrators to justice, the latest being Dr. Alla Mousa, who allegedly tortured and maimed several prisoners at a military detention facility throughout the early 2010s. After committing his crimes, Mousa moved to Germany to practice medicine in 2015, but his time in court is just getting started.
During 2011, protesters thought to be a part of the opposition were often abducted and imprisoned for speaking out against President Bashar Al Assad. The president is known for his anti-democratic policies, which led to a surge of violent protests at the turn of the decade. The president’s opponents were kept in military detention facilities, where they were tortured or murdered for their crimes. Russian and U.S. forces, along with extremist groups such as the Islamic State, have since entered the country.
Federal prosecutors from Karlsruhe, Germany, where Mousa later resided, laid out the doctor’s alleged crimes, some of which are too horrible to describe. The following content may be disturbing to some readers.
According to the statement, prosecutors say Mousa tortured and harmed several prisoners at military detention facilities in two cities, Homs and Damascus, from 2011 to 2012. His actions also led to the death of one prisoner.
In one instance, Mousa allegedly poured alcohol on a 14- to 15-year-old’s genitals and then set fire to the area. He has been accused of punching nine others in the stomach, face, or genitals.
Prosecutors also say Mousa hit a patient in the face with a plastic tube and then kicked them in the head. The patient was reportedly experiencing an epileptic seizure at the time. He died from his injuries a few days later, after Mousa gave him an unidentified tablet; however, the exact cause of death remains unknown.
The doctor also hung patients from the ceiling by their hands and hit them with a plastic stick. He tried to light his patients’ heads on fire using alcohol and other flammable liquids. In total, prosecutors accused him of torturing at least 18 individuals over the span of a year.
Mousa relocated to Germany in 2015 to begin a new life. He was arrested by German police in June 2020. The federal indictment, announced this week, has charged him with murder, severe bodily harm, attempted bodily harm, and dangerous bodily harm.
Justice for All
The international community praised the charges against Mousa.
Wolfgang Kaleck, head of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said:
“Grave crimes against Syria’s civil society are not only taking place in the detention centers of the intelligence services: Syria’s torture and extermination system is complex and only exists thanks to the support of a wide variety of actors. With the trial [of Mousa], the role of military hospitals and medical staff in this system could be addressed for the very first time.”
German prosecutors brought another member of President Bashar Al Assad’s party to justice earlier this year. Eyad Al-Gharib, a member of the Syrian secret police, was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity for torturing prisoners. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
This was the first time a court outside of Syria ruled on the government’s crimes against humanity, setting a legal precedent for future cases.
Kaleck also noted how the charges against Mousa can be used to target sexual harassment and abuse.
“Sexual violence is being used as a weapon — systematically and intentionally — against the opposition in Syria. Those affected not only suffer physical and psychological consequences but are also stigmatized and discriminated by society,” he said, adding that Mousa’s trial “could make them seen and thus also send an important signal to the many survivors who have remained silent until now.”
The BBC estimates at least 500,000 people have died over the course of the Syrian Civil War, including 205,000 people who are missing or presumed dead and 88,000 people that were killed after being tortured in military-run detention facilities.