The Netherlands and Canada have jointly brought a case against Syria before the highest court of the United Nation, claiming that, the Bashar al-Assad administration had violated a U.N. protocol by torturing thousands of civilians.
The two assert that, Damascus has “committed countless violations of international law,” and ask the International Court of Justice to grant temporary injunctions, directing Damascus to stop using torture on anyone who opposed the government, throughout the protracted civil war in their nation.
Three years ago, the Dutch made their first public announcement of a strategy to hold Syria responsible for what they labeled as “horrific crimes.” The Netherland also demanded in a diplomatic letter that, Assad’s administration should engage in conversations under the UN Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In 2021, Canada took part in this procedure.
Prior to taking the case before a court in The Hague, both parties are required by the 1984 treaty to engage in mediation. The complaint alleges that the procedure was ineffective.
According to the Netherlands and Canada, there is substantial proof that, the Assad administration has been systematically violating the rights of its own citizens since 2011. Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra said in a press release that, “Syrian civilians have been tortured, murdered disappeared attacked with poison gas, or lost everything when they fled for their lives.”
The lawsuit however, cited the conclusions of the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria, prepared by UN’s agency entrusted with examining crimes committed during the conflict.
Moscow’s Support To Damascus
On the other hand, Russia has obstructed efforts to establish a special court to try these crimes. During the more than a decade conflict, President Vladimir Putin has supported Assad, and Russian mercenaries have been charged with randomly striking civilian targets.
As Damascus attempts to reestablish diplomatic ties, pressure has been mounted on international community to take action to hold it accountable. However, Syria was ushered again into the Arab League last month, ending a 12-year expulsion from the regional alliance.
Toby Cadman, an international human rights attorney, who has been handling the case for the Netherlands, said that, “We’ve been looking at creative ways to bring justice to the victims.”
Other National courts have found several regime members guilty in their respective jurisdictions, notwithstanding the failure of international attempts to do so. Germany has sentenced a number of former government officials to imprisonment for torture, crimes against humanity, and war crimes by using the doctrine of the “universal jurisdiction.” Until their incarceration, these men had all submitted asylum requests to Germany.
Also, French judges gave the go-ahead for three ex top government figures to go on trial for crimes against humanity, resulting to the deaths of two dual citizens from Syria and France. The trio are yet to be in French custody.
The suit from the Netherlands and Canada is only the second time, a case citing infractions of the 1984 agreement, has been filed before the court in The Hague. With regards to history, Belgium complained filed a suit against Senegal in 2009, claiming that the West African nation had violated the terms of the agreement by refusing to bring charges against Hissene Habre, the exiled former president of Chad.
Three years later, the International Court of Justice directed Dakar to bring Habre’s case quickly. He passed away from COVID-19 in 2021 while incarcerated for life for crimes against humanity that resulted in the deaths of almost 40,000 people.