Former Syrian official convicted of crimes against humanity

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A German court found a former Syrian intelligence officer guilty of crimes against humanity on Thursday at a prison just outside of the city of Damascus, and sentenced him to life in prison.

In the first conviction of a top-ranking Syrian official, 58-year-old Anwar Raslan was found guilty of crimes against humanity that included rape, preparation of killings, sexual assault, torture, "serious depravation of liberty" and hostage-taking.

Prosecutors in the case alleged that Raslan oversaw the torture of prisoners in the city of Douma, a facility that detained suspected opposition prisoners about a decade ago.

Raslan was also convicted for the deaths of 27 prisoners. He was not convicted for the alleged forced disappearing of Syrians.

The trial and its outcome marks the end of the first trial related to state-sponsored torture under Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to The Washington Post.

Assad's crackdown on protesters in 2011 sparked an all-out civil war that continues to rage in the Middle Eastern country. More than 400,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced from their homes.

Assad's government has been accused of human rights violations for years.

Michelle Bachelet, the high commissioner for the United Nations Human Rights office, said the conviction "is a landmark leap forward in the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations for the serious human rights violations perpetrated in Syria over more than a decade."

"This trial cast a much-needed, renewed spotlight on the kinds of sickening torture, cruel and truly inhuman treatment - including abject sexual violence - that countless Syrians were subjected to in detention facilities," she said in a Thursday statement.

Raslan was arrested in Germany after seeking asylum in the country.

Raslan was tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction, according to the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which allows a court to try serious crimes perpetrated in third world countries.

"Universal jurisdiction is often the last hope for victims of the most serious crimes," said Wolfgang Kaleck, the organization's general secretary, in a statement. "Today's judgment creates a solid basis for other European prosecutors to pursue further proceedings."

ECCHR joined 14 other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which also brought in Syrian survivors of the detention facility headed by Raslan, known as Branch 251.

Ruham Hawash, a Syrian survivor, said "this day, this verdict is important for all Syrians who have suffered and are still suffering from the Assad regime's crimes."

"It shows us: justice should and must not remain a dream for us," he said in a statement through ECCHR. "This verdict is only a beginning and we have a long way to go - but for us affected people, this trial and today's ruling are a first step towards freedom, dignity and justice."

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