Netherlands, Canada take Syria to International Court of Justice over torture claims

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Canada and the Netherlands have taken Damascus to the International Court of Justice over allegations of torture, the tribunal said Monday, in the first case at the UN’s top court over Syria’s brutal civil war.

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The Hague-based ICJ said the Dutch and Canadians accused Syria of breaching a UN convention against “torture or other cruel treatment”, including the “use of chemical weapons”.

They asked the court to take urgent measures, including ordering Syria to release prisoners who have been arbitrarily detained and allow access to detention centres by international monitors.

Syria has never previously faced international courts over the war, which erupted after President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on pro-democracy protests in 2011 and has killed more than 500,000 people.

“Canada and the Kingdom of the Netherlands filed a joint application instituting proceedings against the Syrian Arab Republic before the International Court of Justice (ICJ),” the court said in a statement.

Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said the case against Syria aimed to bring “accountability” for atrocities in the war.

“Bringing this case before the ICJ is a major next step on the long road to that goal,” Hoekstra said in a statement.

“Syrian citizens have been tortured, murdered, disappeared, attacked with poison gas or forced to flee for their lives and leave behind everything they had.” 

There was no immediate reaction from Damascus to the ICJ case.

‘Abhorrent treatment’ 

Canada and the Netherlands alleged in their application to the ICJ, which rules on disputes between UN member states, that “Syria has committed countless violations of international law, beginning at least in 2011.”

These include “abhorrent treatment of detainees, inhumane conditions in places of detention, enforced disappearances, the use of sexual and gender-based violence, and violence against children,” they said. 

The violations “also include the use of chemical weapons which has been a particularly abhorrent practice to intimidate and punish the civilian population, resulting in numerous deaths, injuries and severe physical and mental suffering.”

Syria has repeatedly denied the use of chemical weapons, although the world chemical weapons watchdog has found that the Syrian military has repeatedly used them against its own people.

Canada and the Netherlands asked the ICJ to order Syria to “cease and prevent all acts that amount to or contribute to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” 

Syria should also halt “arbitrary detention” and release unlawfully detained people, reveal the burial sites of people who died in detention, and preserve any evidence including medical records, they said.


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