The trial of the 36-year-old doctor started at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt a week after a landmark German court ruling sentencing a Syrian regime former intelligence officer to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity.
German prosecutors have accused a Syrian doctor of torturing detainees and killing one of them while working in regime military hospitals in Syria.
The accused helped to perpetrate "a systematic attack on the civilian population," said German federal prosecutor Anna Zabeck as she read out the charge sheet at the start of the trial in Frankfurt on Wednesday.
The accused, 36-year-old Alaa Mousa, arrived in Germany in 2015 where he continued to practise medicine until his arrest.
Mousa faces 18 counts of torturing detainees at military hospitals in Homs and Damascus in 2011-12, including setting fire to a teenage boy's genitals.
He also faces one count of murder, for having allegedly administered a lethal injection to a prisoner who resisted being beaten.
He "tortured detainees by inflicting substantial bodily harm on them," Zabeck told the court.
Mousa has denied the allegations.
Second such case
Mousa left Syria for Germany in mid-2015, arriving not as a refugee but on a visa for skilled workers.
He said that he belonged to Syria's Christian minority.
He worked in several places as an orthopaedic doctor, including the central spa town of Bad Wildungen, before being arrested in June 2020 after Syrian witnesses came forward.
The trial at Frankfurt's higher regional court is the second of its kind in Germany, and adds to other European efforts to hold loyalists of Bashar al Assad's regime to account for alleged war-era atrocities.
Another German court last week sentenced a former Syrian colonel to life in jail for overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of 4,000 others at a Damascus detention centre a decade ago.
That verdict, hailed by victims as "historic", marked the culmination of the first trial globally over state-sponsored torture in Syria.
The proceedings in Germany are made possible by the legal principle of "universal jurisdiction" — which allows countries to try people for crimes of exceptional gravity, including war crimes and genocide, even if they were committed in a different country.
Other cases involving the Syrian conflict have also sprung up in France, Norway, Sweden and Austria.
"Over the past decade, a large amount of evidence about atrocities in Syria has been collected, and now ... those efforts are starting to bear fruit," said Balkees Jarrah of Human Rights Watch.
The war in Syria has killed close to half a million people since it broke out in 2011.
Germany has taken in some 800,000 Syrian refugees.