Anwar Al Bunni is a prominent human rights lawyer who has three decades’ experience of holding the Syrian regime to account for its human rights abuses through the legal system.
Al Bunni was born in 1959 to a Christian family in Hama. Prior to the completion of his legal training he had worked as a goldsmith, taking over his father’s trade upon his death to support his family, as well as working in construction.
Before the revolution, Al Bunni was one of the founders of the Human Rights Association in Syria and defended political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Syrian courts, often pro bono (without payment).In 2004 he worked to establish the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research, a human rights organisation based in Damascus.
He was detained for his activities a number of times. In 2006, he was sentenced to five years in prison after signing the Beirut-Damascus Declaration which called for the improvement of relations between Syria and Lebanon. He was charged with spreading false news, establishing an unlicensed political association, discrediting state institutions and dealing with foreign countries. Whilst in detention, he was subjected to torture. Numerous other members of his family have also spent time in detention due to their leftist politics and opposition to the regime.
Al Bunni was released in 2011, as the revolution was erupting, and continued to defend detainees. He fled Syria in 2014 after learning that there was a warrant for his arrest. He made his way to Germany, via Lebanon. He now lives in Berlin.
Since fleeing Syria, he has remained active in the cause of human rights and justice. He has given testimony to the United Nations regarding arbitrary detention and forced disappearances in Syria.
As of 2020, Al Bunni has been involved in the landmark court case to prosecute two former officials of the regime’s security apparatus for crimes against humanity, including torture and sexual assault, at the notorious Branch 251, in the city of Koblenz, Germany. Germany applies the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows German courts to prosecute those who carry out serious crimes under international law, regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the accused. Such efforts to hold regime officials to account for wide-spread human rights abuses under domestic courts is essential as Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and efforts through the UN Security Council to pursue investigations have been repeatedly blocked by Russia and China. Al Bunni has given testimony to the court in Germany based on his own experience and the years he spent defending victims of human rights abuse. He has also assisted German prosecutors to find witnesses willing to testify.
In 2008 he was awarded the Front Line Award to Human Rights Defenders at Risk. The following year, he received the German Association of Judges Human Rights Award. In 2018 he was awarded the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.