State-run Torture in Syria: the First Trial Worldwide on International Crimes by the Assad Regime Opens before German Courts
The first criminal trial worldwide on State-run torture in Syria started in Koblenz, Germany, on 23 April 2020. The defendants are two former high officials of the Syrian General Intelligence Service of President Bashar al-Assad and face charges for international crimes committed in the Al-Khatib prison of Damascus. The trial marks a historical achievement in international criminal justice; in fact, it is the first trial based on the principle of universal jurisdiction against Syrian State officials. Moreover, the Al-Kathib trial, together with other proceedings held in a few other European States, is currently the only way to ensure accountability for the grave crimes committed within the Syrian conflict
The present essay analyzes the legal and historical evolution of prison: first, a tool designed to ensure that the defendant be present at trial and that the judgment be executed; then, a place of detention with a punishment aim. The chosen point of view is the experience of Italian “Practicae criminales”: a literary genre of great importance in the modern age. It constitutes a unique proof of the extraordinary melting pot of legislation, scholarly works, case law and practices rooted in common law. Within these “Practicae”, prisons as a detention place for those awaiting a final judgment are studied for the first time; there are guidelines to regulate the delicate relationship between prison officers and detainees, to strike a balance between guarantism and terror; they describe how the places meant to welcome prisoners and their features should be to avoid mistreatments and torture. There are foresighted descriptions of issues that would later attract debates since the Eighteen Century on. Then the prison would start being seen as the ultimate punishment in a civil society that rejected the reliance on the “splendeur des supplices” of the previous centuries. Nevertheless, throughout the centuries prison has maintained those sharp and afflictive features underlined in the “Practicae” (which at the same time tried to control them by balancing humanity and repression). This analysis unavoidably presents the contemporary jurist with pressing questions on prison conditions, recalling echoes of the past to the historians.
In una Carta costituzionale che non conosce altri obblighi di criminalizzazione, il reato di tortura è il solo ad essere imposto e preteso. Eppure, nonostante quanto prescritto dall’art. 13, 4° comma, Cost. e dai relativi obblighi internazionali in materia, nel codice penale persiste l’assenza di un’apposita fattispecie repressiva. Che fondamento giuridico hanno le molteplici strategie argomentative adoperate a giustificazione di questo persistente vuoto di repressione penale? Quali, invece, sono le sue autentiche ragioni ordinamentali? E come mettere a valore il divieto internazionale di tortura già ora, nell’ambito del sindacato di costituzionalità delle leggi? L’indagine risponde a tali interrogativi, affrontando un fenomeno – la tortura – irriducibile al principio di legalità eppure non estraneo al nostro ordinamento, come accertato in non isolati pronunciamenti giurisdizionali.