Between 50 and 100 people involved in the torture of civilians for the Syrian regime may be living in the Netherlands, according to research by newspaper Trouw and investigative radio outlet Argos.
The country is now home to around 125,000 Syrian refugees, who fled the ongoing civil war and, the paper says, some of them may be guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Dutch police’s International Crimes Team is responsible for the investigation into possible war criminals in the country.
Under universal jurisdiction – which allows national courts to try certain crimes regardless of where they occurred – the Dutch can prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity if either the victim or the perpetrator is living in the country.
Proving participation, however, is difficult. The Dutch authorities cannot travel to Syria to investigate possible violations and witnesses may be spread across the world. “Legally it is quite a high bar to designate someone as suspected of international crimes.” Mirjam Blom, public prosecutor, told Trouw.
The Dutch have one of the largest teams looking into international crimes in the world. Of the 43 staff, 20 focus on the Middle East and conduct around 20 investigations every year, half of which involve Iraq and Syria.
While the team gets tips every day, most of the information is not usable in an investigation.
The first trial against a Syrian regime official opened last year. Prosecutors say he was part of a militia and was present for the arrest of two civilians who were later tortured.
Previously, proceedings against Syrians have involved opposition fighters or members of the Islamic State. A 49-year-old Syrian asylum seeker was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his involvement in the shooting of a Syrian government official in 2021.
Five Dutch women who travelled to Syria to join the IS-led caliphate were sentenced to prison terms of between three years and 16 months by judges in Rotterdam earlier this year.
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