Many of the serious crimes committed during the years that the war in Syria has been taking place continue to go unpunished, in part due to difficulties investigating them. But in Sweden and Germany, some people have been both prosecuted and sentenced for the crimes.
The two countries are at the forefront in the fight against war crimes committed in the country, pushing the issues despite the challenges involved, Human Rights Watch notes.
The latest case to reach court in Sweden was a 32-year-old man who was sentenced to eight months in prison in September for violations of international law in Syria. The man, who had fought for the Syrian army, allowed himself to be photographed posing with dead or severely injured people.
The crime was committed near Damascus in January 2014. The 32-year-old came to Sweden in 2015 in order to seek asylum, but police became aware of him after a member of the public tipped them off about the photographs.
In the Human Rights Watch report, 50 officials are interviewed who worked on legal cases in Sweden and Germany are interviewed, as well as 45 Syrian refugees living in the countries.
"Both countries have both experience, strong laws and legal systems, and well-functioning units who work with work crimes," Maria Elena Vignoli explained in the report.
But more could still be done. Sweden and Germany have together received the majority of requests for residence permits from Syrians fleeing to Europe, and far from everyone knows it’s possible to report a crime that occurred in Sweden to police here in Europe. More resources and work are needed to reach refugees who may have suffered war crimes, the report warned.
"An example is translations of important information about cases to the relevant language, and using social media which is an easy way to get to refugees," Vignoli said.
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