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The Völkerstrafgesetzbuch (German: [ˈfœlkɐˌʃtʁaːfɡəˌzɛtsbuːx], "Code of Crimes against International Law"), abbreviated VStGB, is a German law that regulates crimes against (public) international law. It allows cases to be brought against suspects under international criminal law provisions, meaning that suspects can be prosecuted even though both they and their victims are foreigners and the crime itself took place abroad.[1]

The VStGB was created to bring the German criminal law into accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It was announced on 26 June 2002 and became law 30 June 2002.


The VStGB covers the following offenses:

None of these are subject to a statute of limitations (§ 5). The general principles of criminal law under the Strafgesetzbuch (German penal code) remain applicable, unless otherwise provided (§ 2). As a novelty under German criminal law, provisions on superior responsibility are established (§§ 4, 13, 14). Acting upon superior orders may only exculpate a perpetrator of international crimes in exceptional circumstances (§ 3).

According to § 1, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are subject to universal jurisdiction, thus German courts can punish offenses committed by foreign citizens abroad. Prosecutorial jurisdiction lies with the Public Prosecutor General. Competent courts at first instance are the Oberlandesgerichte (Higher Regional Courts). The prosecution of crimes committed outside German jurisdiction is limited by § 153f of the German Criminal Procedural Code, which gives the Public Prosecutor General a wide discretion of when to open a case via universal jurisdiction, if the offender is not of German nationality. So far the Public Prosecutor General's office has suspended persecator[clarification needed] measures for 128 cases brought to its attention involving international crimes pursuant to the German International Criminal Code.[citation needed]

Notable cases[edit]

In May 2011, the trial of two Rwandan citizens, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, began before the Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart. This was the first trial under the VStGB in Germany.[2][3] Prosecutors had pushed for a life sentence for Murwanashyaka with no conditional release after 15 years and 12 years in prison for Musoni.[4] In September 2015, the accused were eventually sentenced to 13 and 8 years in prison.[5]

In March 2021, the Public Prosecutor General had German police detain a Gambian man suspected of participating in crimes against humanity, including the killing of a journalist, as a driver in the elite guard of former President Yahya Jammeh.[6][7]

In May 2021, ten Belarusians asked the Public Prosecutor General to open a criminal investigation against President Alexander Lukashenko and security officers for alleged crimes against humanity during a crackdown on protests.[8][9]

Islamic State[edit]

In February 2020, the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt indicted Taha al-Jumailly, an Iraqi national who allegedly left a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he and his wife kept as a slave in Iraq to die of thirst in the heat, on charges of murder, membership of a foreign terrorist organization, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and human trafficking.[10][11] In what was the first genocide verdict against a member of Islamic State, the court found al-Jumailly guilty in 2021 of involvement in the slaughter of more than 3,000 Yazidis and enslavement of 7,000 women and girls by IS jihadists in 2014–15.[12]

Syrian civil war[edit]

In 2017, the Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart found a 24-year-old Syrian national guilty under the VStGB of being an accessory to a war crime against the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that involved kidnapping of Canadian peacekeeper Carl Campeau for ransom, three counts of attempted robbery by blackmail and grievous unlawful detention during the Syrian civil war[13][14]

In April 2020, proceedings were launched at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz against Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib, two suspected members of President Bashar al-Assad's security services, on charges of crimes against humanity, rape, aggravated sexual assault and murder, making them the first trial for war crimes by Syrian government agents.[1][15][16][17] Anwar al-Bunni, a Syrian human rights lawyer living in exile in Germany, provided testimony as a witness on "the horrors and the bureaucratic structures of Assad's jails and torture chambers", based on his five years as a prisoner in Syria and from his legal experience in representing victims. Bunni worked with prosecutors to help find witnesses willing to testify in the trial.[18] In a landmark ruling in February 2021, the court sentenced al-Gharib to four-and-a-half years in prison for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity through torture and the deprivation of liberty.[19]

In January 2022, proceedings were launched at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt am Main against a Syrian doctor, Alaa M., suspected of crimes against humanity, including torturing opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while working as a doctor at a military prison and hospitals in Homs and Damascus in 2011 and 2012.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tobias Buck (29 October 2019), Germany charges two Syrians with crimes against humanity Financial Times.
  2. ^ "Rwanda: Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni tried". BBC. 4 May 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  3. ^ "Oberlandesgericht Stuttgart (5. Strafsenat) eröffnet Hauptverfahren gegen zwei mutmaßliche Führungsfunktionäre der "Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda" (FDLR )". Oberlandesgericht Stuttgart (in German). 4 March 2011. Archived from the original on 23 August 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  4. ^ "Germany finds Rwandan rebel leaders guilty of war crimes"Deutsche Welle, 28 September 2015.
  5. ^ "Conviction of FDLR leaders by German Court". Armed Groups and International Law. 28 September 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  6. ^ Joseph Nasr (March 16, 2021), "Germany detains former Gambian elite guard suspected of war crimes", Reuters.
  7. ^ "Gambia: alleged ex-member of 'Junglers' killing squad arrested in Germany", Radio France International, March 16, 2021.
  8. ^ "Ten Belarusians file criminal case against Lukashenko in Germany"Reuters, May 5, 2021.
  9. ^ Hannes Heine (May 5, 2021), "Folteropfer klagen Präsidenten von Belarus in Deutschland an"Der Tagesspiegel.
  10. ^ "Germany indicts Iraqi man over death of Yazidi slave girl", Associated Press, 21 February 2020.
  11. ^ "Higher Regional Court Frankfurt/Main: beginning of the main trial against Taha Al-J." Higher Regional Court Frankfurt/Main, press release of 24 April 2020.
  12. ^ Joseph Nasr (30 November 2021), "Germany jails Islamic State member for life over role in Yazidi genocide", Reuters.
  13. ^ Justin Huggler (22 January 2016), "Suspected Syrian jihadist arrested in Germany for 'war crime'", The Daily Telegraph.
  14. ^ Joseph Nasr (20 September 2017), "German court finds Syrian guilty over U.N. peacekeeper abduction", Reuters.
  15. ^ Oltermann, Philip Wed 22 Apr 2020 15.21 BST; Graham-Harrison, Emma (22 April 2020). "Two Syrian defectors to go on trial in Germany for war crimes". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 December 2020. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  16. ^ Morris, Loveday (23 April 2020). "German court case is first to try Syrian regime for war crimes". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 12 December 2020. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  17. ^ Petra Wischgoll (23 April 2020), "German court opens first Syria torture trial", Reuters.
  18. ^ Graham-Harrison, Emma (12 December 2020). "'My goal is justice for all Syrians': one man's journey from jail to witness for the prosecution". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 December 2020. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  19. ^ Loveday Morris and Sarah Dadouch (24 February 2021), "German court convicts Syrian ex-intelligence officer in historic torture trial"Washington Post.
  20. ^ Alkousaa, Riham; Uhlig, Patricia (19 January 2022). "Syrian doctor on trial in Germany over torture in military hospitals". Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 20 January 2022. Retrieved 23 January 2022.

External links[edit]