Creating new perspectives since 2009

Netherlands, Canada take Syria to World Court over torture claims

June 12, 2023 at 3:24 pm

Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia meets Bashar al-Assad on April 18, 2023 in Damascus, Syria. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Damascus on Tuesday, for the first such visit to Syria in 12 years [Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry – Anadolu Agency]

The Netherlands and Canada are taking Syria to the World Court over torture claims, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said on Monday, Reuters reports.

In their application, Canada and the Netherlands claim that “Syria has committed countless violations of International law, beginning at least in 2011,” and asked for emergency measures to be taken to protect those at risk of being tortured, the ICJ, also known as the World Court, said in a statement.

They are seeking to hold the government of President Bashar Al-Assad accountable for gross human rights violations and torture under the UN Convention against Torture, which Damascus ratified in 2004.

“It is the Dutch government’s position that there is ample evidence demonstrating that Syria has committed serious human rights violations against Syrian citizens on a grand scale,” the Dutch Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

READ: Syria expects to halve wheat imports after ‘very good’ harvest, Minister says

In their application, Canada and the Netherlands have asked the Court to issue emergency orders for Syria to cease all acts of torture and cruel treatment and to end arbitrary detentions, among other things. Usually, the World Court will order emergency hearings to mull such requests within days of receiving a claim.

If it finds it has jurisdiction, the ICJ would be the first international court to be able to make a legal finding on the alleged state use of torture in Syria.

Canada and the Netherlands decided to act in 2020 after Russia blocked multiple efforts in the United Nations Security Council to refer a case on human rights violations in Syria to the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals for war crimes and is also based in The Hague.

So far, there has been one conviction for the use of torture by a former Syrian state official in a landmark trial in Germany in January last year. The German case was filed under the country’s universal jurisdiction laws, allowing its courts to prosecute crimes against humanity committed anywhere.

Cases before the ICJ usually take years to reach a final verdict, but emergency orders can be issued within weeks.

Syria’s 12-year civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and drawn in regional and world powers. The devastation of the conflict has been compounded by the large-scale destruction caused by earthquakes that hit north-western Syria in February.

READ: Arab Parliament calls on int’l community to hold Israel accountable