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Monday, May 27, 2024

The ICJ in The Hague holds its first hearing regarding torture in Syria

Last Tuesday, October 10, 2023, dozens of Syrian survivors of torture, and families of those who have been arbitrarily detained and killed under torture in Syria, gathered outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague while it held its first public hearing in the case related to the application of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This case was brought by Canada and the Netherlands, as parties to the Convention Against Torture, against the Syrian state for violating the conditions set forth by the Convention Against Torture to which Syria is also a signatory. Tuesday’s session focused on a request from the Netherlands and Canada to impose orders, known as provisional measures, on the Syrian government which include the cessation of torture while the hearings continue in order to protect potential victims.

Dozens of Syrians and their supporters gather outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Oct. 5, 2023 during Tuesday’s hearing. Credit: The Syria Campaign

“This court [ICJ] is the first step in achieving justice for the Syrian people and it is an important and historical step being directed at the Syrian state, and not individuals”

Fadwa Mahmoud

Fadwa Mahmoud, a political and civil activist and founding member of Families for Freedom, was among those gathered outside the court during the hearing. “This court is the first step in achieving justice for the Syrian people and it is an important and historical step being directed at the Syrian state, and not individuals,” she told Syriawise, adding that “all of us are waiting to achieve this justice and also hold all criminals accountable in the International Criminal Court as this justice is for Syria and all Syria’s youth.”

“We were gathered outside the ICJ headquarters with photos of our loved ones whose place is not in Syria’s detention centers or jails. They should be free to help rebuild Syria,” Mahmoud went on to say. During the demonstration, Mahmoud held photos of her husband and son whom she had not seen since 2012 after they were arbitrarily detained by the Assad regime while on their way home from the airport.

“the importance of the International Court of Justice comes from the purely legal background of this procedure. It is based on attributing the responsibility for torture to the state as a whole, rather than individuals”

Ahmad Helmi

During oral arguments presented during the hearing, it was pointed out that in the past three years, the Netherlands and Canada had made joint efforts to engage in good-faith negotiations with the Syrian government and that their efforts had been well-documented in 66 oral notes during the exchange. In spite of the fact that two personal meetings were held in the United Arab Emirates between Dutch and Canadian representatives and representatives of the Syrian state in April and October of 2022, no progress was achieved in their efforts to resolve the dispute.

Ahmad Helmi, co-founder and manager of the Ta’afi (Recuperation) Initiative, was also present outside the ICJ headquarters on Tuesday. Helmi told Syriawise: “In my opinion, the importance of the International Court of Justice comes from the purely legal background of this procedure. It is based on attributing the responsibility for torture to the state as a whole, rather than individuals. Consequently, torture is viewed as a systematic and widespread practice that should be addressed on this basis.”

“the Syrian government was committing crimes such as kidnapping, torture, and killing inside the detention centers, which violated the Convention Against Torture treaty which Syria had officially signed in 2004”

Hisham Masalmeh

Hisham Masalmeh, a Syrian lawyer and political legal activist, told Syriawise: “If you want to file a claim with the International Court of Justice, there are some diplomacy procedures that must be gone through before a claim can be legally filed. After it was brought to the attention of Canada and the Netherlands that the Syrian government was committing crimes such as kidnapping, torture, and killing inside the detention centers, which violated the Convention Against Torture treaty which Syria had officially signed in 2004, they initiated correspondence with the Syrian state to discuss the matter.”

After more than two years of what Masalmeh described as a marathon of efforts to negotiate during which the Syrian government procrastinated and then outright refused to cooperate, the two countries filed a complaint with the ICJ six months ago. Hearings for the case were originally scheduled to begin on July 19 of this year but were postponed until October 10 due to a request for more time to prepare its case by the Syrian government. It is worth noting that in spite of the extra time it was given, Syria failed to send any representatives to the court for the hearings that began on Tuesday and that a second day of hearings that was scheduled to be held on Wednesday, October 11 was also postponed due to Syria’s failure to show.

Another sit-in in The Hague; Credit: Diab Serriye

Inside Syria, residents of Suwayda broke from their recent practice of holding daily demonstrations calling for the fall of the Assad regime and held a special demonstration on Tuesday evening while the hearings were being held at the ICJ. During the large demonstration which was widely attended, a multitude of men, women, and children also held photos of their own loved ones who had been arbitrarily detained and killed under torture.

During Tuesday’s hearing, a representative of Canada stressed the urgent need for intervention by the court, emphasizing that there is no doubt that the ongoing and repeated violations of the Convention Against Torture by the Syrian government continue to cause irreparable harm to the affected rights of the Syrian people.

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