Panel Discussion “Syria - Impunity for War Crimes? How the Nuremberg Principles can be enforced in the Syrian Conflict”


On the occasion of the World Day for International Justice on 17 July, the International Nuremberg Principles Academy and the International Criminal Law Research Unit of Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg co-organized a panel discussion. Academics and practitioners explored possible criminal responses to the complex situation in Syria.

The discussion focused on both the situation in Syria and of Syrian refugees in Germany. The participants stated that the international community was weakening and underlined the fundamental need to renew multilateralism and strengthen civil society. At present, national procedures based on the principle of universal jurisdiction have a selective but important impact. Those prosecutions necessarily relate to individual cases, but evidence gathering in structural investigations plays an important supporting role, including with regard to the Federal Prosecutor General's cooperation with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria (IIIM) and the International Criminal Court. Using the example of the so-called "Caesar files", the participants explained the interaction between NGOs and national prosecutions. The files contain tens of thousands of photos of corpses in Syrian government detention facilities documenting the systematic and widespread human rights violations. They served the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) as basis to submit a criminal complaint to the German Federal Prosecutor against high-ranking officials of the Syrian intelligence services and military police for international crimes. The discussion also addressed the protection of Syrian refugees in Germany by the Geneva Conventions and the legal framework in dealing with alleged perpetrators among the refugees.

The panelists agreed on the necessity of criminal responses to core international crimes in order to also strengthen the credibility of Germany and the international community, and on their high symbolic function. The investigation of facts not only serves justice, but also the finding of truth, which constitute the conditions for a later sustainable peace.

Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt
, Chair in Human Rights and Human Rights Politics, FAU
Prof. Anuscheh Farahat, Professor of Public Law, Migration Law and Human Rights, FAU
Federal Prosecutor Dr. Heike Neuhaus, Head of Department, Federal Prosecutor General’s Office
Andreas Schüller, Director International Crimes and Accountability Program, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

Dr. Viviane Dittrich, Deputy Director, International Nuremberg Principles Academy