Severely destroyed building, with light coming from one window.
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The war in Syria started in 2011. Credit: Narciso Contreras
lagbok och klubba
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Seven cases of war crimes committed in Syria have been brought to trial in Europe so far. Credit: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden and Germany 'at the forefront' in prosecuting Syria war crimes

Report author: Both countries have access to a large number of potential witnesses
6:33 min

Swedish and German prosecutors and investigators are at the leading edge in bringing those who have committed war crimes in Syria to justice, according to a new report from Human Right Watch.

People who commit war crimes in Syria are currently not being brought to justice there, nor to the International War Crimes Tribunal, as the UN Security Council has not been able to agree to include Syria in the tribunal's work.

But so far, seven cases concerning war crimes in Syria have been brought to trial, three of them in Sweden and four in Germany. 

These trials are taking place under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which means prosecutors can pursue cases of crimes that have taken place in another country, such as Syria, even though they do not involve victims or perpetrators that are Swedish or German nationals.

Maria Elena Vignoli of the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch says Sweden and Germany differ from other countries in that that they have special war crimes units within the police and prosecution services specialising in these types of crimes, and the legal framework is in place to bring them to trial.

There is also political will in the two countries to deal with these cases, and previous experience from prosecuting war crimes, as well as many refugees from Syria.

"Sweden and Germany have access to a really large number of potential witnesses and victims who can contribute to these justice efforts," says Maria Elena Vignoli, who is the author of this reports.

If she were to recommend Sweden and Germany to improve something in their work, it would be to get better at reaching out to the Syrian refugees here to explain the work in bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice.

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