Nasty Women (and Men) United in Berlin

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Also in Berlin, Germany, women, men and children came together to show solidarity with the protesters in Washington DC. It was a gathering rather than a march, and with only a little over 500 participants attendance was relatively low compared to other sister marches taking place all around the world – but to use Shakespeares words: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.”  And the message sent was loud and fierce: Together, we rose our voices and stood up not only for women’s rights, but for equality, diversity and justice for all humanity. Colorful signs and pink hats lightened up the grey winter day also in Berlin and sent a sign of hope, empowerment and support from the German capital.

The gathering place couldn’t have been more symbolic: We met in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of the city, just outside the doors of the US embassy. The Berlin wall used to stand on the other side of the Gate, a stone’s throw away from where we met, dividing the city into east and west for more than 25 years. For many Germans, especially those Berliners who have experienced the harm and dismay caused by the Berlin wall, it is inconceivable that a man became the US president who wants to build a wall to divide one nation from the other. Thirty years ago almost to the day one of Donald Trump’s predecessors, Ronald Reagan, stood on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate from where we gathered yesterday and urged the then leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to tear down the wall that divided Berlin. In his speech the then US president emphasized that it is the destruction of walls, not their construction, that “advance[s] dramatically the cause of freedom and peace” and leads to liberalization and prosperity. By citing Martin Luther King’s famous words, some of the protesters send the message in the other direction yesterday, demanding to “Build Bridges, Not Walls”. Powerful protests under the same heading took place all over the world over the past days. Let us hope that the message is heard and that a recurrence of harm similar to the one that was caused to the city of Berlin and the German people in the past century can be prevented.

Berliners have another story to tell when they think about the history of the US-German relationship: In 1963 John F. Kennedy underlined the United State’s support for West Germany by declaring that he was a Berliner, thereby encouraging West Berliners not to lose faith in the wake of the construction of the Berlin wall. Yesterday, the people in Berlin expressed their support for all those vulnerable and in fear because of Trump’s presidency. Aside from unquestioned support for justice and the rights and dignity of every human being, the Berlin people made clear that President Donald Trump, with his current demeanor, is not a Berliner.

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Photo Credit: Robert Klages

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Photo Credit: Robert Klages

People gather in front of the U.S. Embassy on Pariser Platz in solidarity with women's march in Washington and many other marches in several countries, in Berlin

Photo Credit: Reuters

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Justice for Syria – Should Bashar al-Assad be tried in a German court?

“What is happening in Aleppo is a genocide in slow-motion“, says Berlin lawyer Mehmet Daimgagüler. Together with five colleagues he has submitted a criminal complaint against the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The complaint was lodged with the German Federal Public Prosecutor’s office and is based on the German Code of Crimes against International Law (‚VStGB’). The Public Prosecutor has the discretion to decide wether or not to open criminal investigations against Assad. His decision is not subject to a specific time limit.

The VStGB was created in 2002 to implement the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court into German law. In its paragraph 1 it provides for universal jurisdiction for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, meaning that a German court has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute an international crime even in the absence of a direct link between the crime, the perpetrator, the victim and Germany. German law also recognizes that core crimes to the international community are first and foremost a matter for the home state of perpetrator and victim, the territorial state where the crime has happened or international courts and tribunals with jurisdiction over the matter: The German Code of Criminal Procedure provides that the Public Prosecutor may abstain from initiating proceedings based on the VStGB if no direct links to Germany exist.

The complaint against Assad concentrates on crimes committed by Assad’s troops on rebel-held areas in eastern Aleppo and the civilian population living there since April this year. According to the lawyers, they identified 41 “ruthless and disproportionate attacks against the civilian population”. Those crimes, says Daimagüler, were chosen as they are well-documented. The lawyers underlined that the fact that their complaint is directed against Assad is not to be interpreted to mean that they see Assad and his troops as the only guilty party in the conflict. But, they argue, about 90 % of the deaths in Syria can be attributed to Assad.

So far, two people have been tried on the basis of the VStGB in Germany. In September 2015 a German court convicted the Rwandans Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, president and vice president of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Murwanashyaka was found guilty for aiding and abetting war crimes in relation to FDLR attacks in eastern Congo and for leading a terrorist organization. Musoni was acquitted of war crimes and crimes against humanity but found guilty of leading a terrorist organization. Additionally, Rwandan Onesphore Rwabukombe was tried and convicted of genocide on the basis of an old version of the German Criminal Code, applicable at the time of the commission of the crime. However, none of the people previously convicted was a sitting head of state. The lawyers who brought the complaint against Assad know that it is not likely that Assad will appear before a German court – ever. “We are not naive”, says Daimagüler. What the six lawyers pursue is a political signal by commencing an investigation.

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