German court exercises universal jurisdiction: Implications for corporate criminal liability under international law

On 24 February 2021, the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht) of Koblenz sentenced a former Syrian secret police officer to a prison term of four and a half years for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity (judgment of 24 February 2021, case No 1 StE 3/21).

The court found that the accused had committed acts of torture and deprivation of liberty when he arrested and transported protesters to an interrogation center with a known record of torture. While the defendant, a Syrian national, was arrested in the German city of Koblenz after he had been granted asylum in Germany, the crimes were committed in Syria and all victims and co-perpetrators are Syrian nationals. This notwithstanding, based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, the German court exercised jurisdiction over the case.

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