Friends or foes? Syrian refugees divided on fate of defectors

Friends or foes? Syrian refugees divided on fate of defectors
A migrant takes a selfie with Chancellor Angela Merkel outside a refugee camp in Berlin’s Spandau district on September 10, 2015. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 December 2020

Friends or foes? Syrian refugees divided on fate of defectors

Friends or foes? Syrian refugees divided on fate of defectors
  • In Germany, prosecutors have used universal jurisdiction laws that allow them to prosecute crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world
  • In the first case to be brought to a German court, the trial opened in April of two former Syrian intelligence officers on charges of torture and sexual assault

GERA, Germany: Should former members of the Syrian security forces who have defected from President Bashar Assad’s government be prosecuted for war crimes, or should they serve as key witnesses in an effort to bring senior officials to justice?
The question has divided Syrian refugees and exiles who have fled a civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and that has been marked by atrocities since it broke out in 2011.
In Germany, home to 600,000 Syrian refugees, prosecutors have used universal jurisdiction laws that allow them to prosecute crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world to seek justice for victims of alleged torture and extrajudicial killings by Assad’s forces.
In the first case to be brought to a German court, the trial opened in April of two former Syrian intelligence officers on charges of torture and sexual assault.
The two suspects had defected in 2012 and were granted asylum in Germany. Many of the Syrians now in Germany are asking if the defectors are friends or foes.
“The trial in Germany is wrong, strategically and morally. Defectors risked their lives to join the opposition and discredit the regime,” said Fawaz Tello, a veteran Syrian dissident.
“Who in their right mind is going to defect now when they see that people who had defected in the first months of the revolution are being put on trial?“
The Syrian government has regularly rejected reports of torture and extrajudicial killings documented by international human rights groups.
Mahmoud Alabdulah, a former colonel in the Syrian army’s elite 4th Division, is one of hundreds of defectors who have given testimonies to German and French judicial officials collecting evidence of alleged war crimes by the Syrian government during the still-unresolved war.
He says a military card identifying his rank is the most valuable item of the few belongings he carried when he left Syria six years ago.
The pink, plastic-covered piece of paper has given more credence to testimonies he delivered in France and Germany against the Syrian government, he says.
“I saw soldiers being executed for refusing to open fire on protesters and heavy artillery fired toward civilian areas,” said Alabdulah, a 56-year-old father of five, rolling a cigarette in a modest apartment in the eastern German city of Gera where he lives with his wife.
“I remember the night I decided to defect: February 13, 2012,” Alabdulah said. “I was praying in my room, lights off, at the Saboura military base (west of Damascus) and I said, ‘God, I don’t want to take part in such crimes, please help me get out of here’.”
Campaigners have hailed the process in Germany as a first step toward justice for thousands of Syrians who say they were tortured in government facilities after attempts to establish an international tribunal for Syria failed.
“No one has the right to tell victims they should not seek justice,” said Anwar Al-Bunni of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) which is representing victims in the torture trial.
“Ignoring suspected war criminals is equivalent to white-washing the Assad regime.”
The main defendant in the trial, Anwar R., is charged with 58 murders in a Damascus prison where prosecutors say at least 4,000 opposition activists were tortured in 2011 and 2012. He has denied all the charges.
He was an intelligence colonel in Assad’s security apparatus but defected in 2012 to Turkey, where he became active in the opposition Free Syrian Army. He came to Germany in 2014 and was granted asylum.
The dissident Tello said Anwar R. was a member of an opposition delegation at UN-sponsored talks in Geneva six years ago aimed at ending the conflict, which makes his trial a “humiliation” for opposition groups marred by infighting.
Former army colonel Alabdulah questioned whether it was realistic for everyone who committed a crime to face justice.
Asked if he feared charges could be filed against him, Alabdulah told Reuters his conscience was clear. He fought against Assad’s forces and Daesh militants before he fled to Turkey, he said.
“We are not even close to winning the war. Even if we did, there should be some kind of a general amnesty,” he said. “The Assad family and its most loyal lieutenants should be tried.” 


Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
A military vehicle is stationed on the tarmac of Yemen’s Aden airport. Yemen says the Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace to the country. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2021

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
  • International community urged not to surrender to ‘blackmailing and intimidation’ 
  • Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace, Yemen PM said

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s prime minister has vowed to address any impact on humanitarian assistance or the remittances of citizens abroad following the US move to designate the Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist organization.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed also urged the international community not to surrender to “Houthi blackmailing” and intimidation.
Saeed defended his government’s strong support of the designation during a virtual interview with foreign journalists sponsored by the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
He said that his government had formed a committee to handle any effects on the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Houthi-controlled areas and the remittances of Yemenis abroad.
“We are determined to prevent any impact of the decision on the Yemenis. We have formed a committee to mitigate effects of the decision,” he said.
When the US announced its intention to designate the Houthi movement as a terrorist organization last week, Yemen’s government quickly urged the US administration to put the decision in place, predicting it would stop Houthi crimes and their looting of humanitarian assistance, and would smoothe the way for peace.
Referring to the impact of the US designation on peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, Saeed said that the decision would not undermine peace efforts. He said that the Houthis would be accepted as part of the Yemeni political and social spectrum when they abandoned hard-line ideologies and embraced equality and justice.

The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, Yemen’s prime minister

“This is an important pressure card on them and a real definition of them,” he said, adding that the Yemenis would not allow the Houthi movement to rule them.
“Yemen would not be ruled by a racist and terrorist group,” he said.
Formed under the Riyadh Agreement, Yemen’s new government’s ministers narrowly escaped death on Dec. 30 when three precision-guided missiles ripped through Aden airport shortly after their plane touched down.
The government accused the Houthis of staging the attack, saying that missile fragments collected from the airport showed that they were similar to missiles that targeted Marib city in the past.
The prime minister said that the Yemeni government had offered many concessions to reach an agreement to end the war. It had agreed to engage in direct talks with the Houthis in Stockholm in 2018 despite the fact that the Yemeni government forces were about to seize control of the Red Sea city of Hodeidah. However, the Stockholm Agreement had failed to bring peace to Yemen, he said.
“The government forces were about to capture the city within five days maximum. The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed,” Saeed said.
In Riyadh, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Friday appointed Ahmed Obeid bin Daghar, a former prime minister and a senior adviser to the president, as president of the Shoura Council.
Hadi also appointed Ahmed Ahmed Al-Mousai as the country’s new attorney general.
Fighting continues
Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis broke out on Sunday for the third consecutive day in contested areas in the districts of Hays and Durihimi in the western province of Hodeidah. Official media said that dozens of Houthi rebels and several government troops were killed in the fighting and loyalists pushed back three assaults by Houthis in Durihimi district.
In neighboring Hays, the Joint Forces media said on Sunday that the Houthis hit government forces with heavy weapons before launching a ground attack in an attempt to seize control of new areas in the district.
The Houthis failed to make any gains and lost dozens of fighters along with several military vehicles that were burnt in the fighting, the same media outlets said. Heavy artillery shelling and land mines planted by the Houthis have killed more than 500 civilians since late 2018, local rights groups said.