Top UN Court to Rule on Syria Torture Today

Thu Nov 16 2023
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THE HAGUE: The United Nation’s top court will rule on alleged Syrian torture programme that investigators say killed tens of thousands, in the first international case over the brutal civil war that began in 2011, today.

Canada and the Netherlands have urged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to “urgently” order a halt to torture in Syrian jails, arguing that “every day counts” for those still in detention.

The verdict follows France’s issuance of an international arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the previous day, accused of complicity in crimes against humanity related to chemical attacks in 2013.

In October, judges at the ICJ in The Hague heard compelling testimonies from Syrian detainees describing gang rape, mutilation and punishment involving contorting people into a car tyre and beating them.

The court is now tasked with issuing “provisional measures” to halt torture and arbitrary detention in Syria, allow external inspections of prisons, and provide families with information regarding the fate of their loved ones.

Canada and the Netherlands, in their submission to the ICJ, underscored that torture remains pervasive and entrenched in Syria, persisting to this day. The submission described the unimaginable physical and mental pain suffered by victims, including abhorrent treatment in detention and sexual and gender-based violence.

According to a report from the UN Human Rights Council, tens of thousands are presumed dead due to torture. Despite Damascus dismissing the case as “disinformation and lies,” asserting the allegations lack credibility, the two countries maintain that the lives and well-being of Syrians are in jeopardy and demand immediate attention from the court.

While some individual war crimes cases related to the Syrian conflict have been pursued in certain countries, there has been persistent frustration in Western capitals over the absence of a comprehensive plan for international justice.

The Dutch initiated efforts in September 2020 to hold Syria accountable for alleged breaches of the United Nations Convention against Torture, with Canada joining the case in March of the following year.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), also based in The Hague, has been unable to address the Syrian situation because Damascus never ratified the Rome Statute, the tribunal’s founding treaty. The situation gained renewed attention after Assad’s reentry into the international arena in May, marked by his attendance at an Arab League summit.

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