Skip to main content
(Brussels) – Human Rights Watch released a question-and-answer document and video on October 20, 2016 that highlight the groundbreaking investigations and prosecutions in European countries of people accused of kidnappings, ill-treatment, and torture in Syria and Iraq. These criminal cases were possible because of the arrival in Europe of both victims and suspects during the refugee crisis.
A Syrian man carries his two girls as he walks across the rubble following a barrel bomb attack on the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Kalasa in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on September 17, 2015.  © 2015 Getty


The cases, in a number of European countries, are based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national courts to prosecute suspects of crimes in another country for some of the world’s most serious crimes. The cases are the first credible attempts at holding accountable those responsible for brutal acts against civilians in Syria and Iraq. The proceedings demonstrate that grave abuses in these countries are of concern to humanity as a whole and can be prosecuted even if those responsible flee abroad.

“Several European countries are giving Syrian and Iraqi refugees whose lives have been torn apart a ray of hope that the crimes against them won’t go unpunished,” said Balkees Jarrah, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Universal jurisdiction cases also strengthen the foundation for including justice in any eventual peace agreement.”

The Q&A explains how the universal jurisdiction principle works, outlines cases that have been brought in various European countries, and includes information on how to strengthen these efforts. The video includes interviews with experts and a Syrian activist to explain how the process is working.



Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.