ICJ reserves on Canada-Netherlands' joint bid for interim anti-torture measures against Syria

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (October 10, 2023, 4:32 PM EDT) -- The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has reserved judgment on the joint bid by Canada and the Netherlands for a provisional order requiring Syria to “immediately cease its systematic practice of torture and other forms of ill-treatment” of Syrians, pending the outcome of the pair’s application on the merits.

Last June the two countries started legal proceedings at the ICJ in an effort to hold Syria accountable for its violations of the Convention against Torture, which actions they allege includes the Syrian regime, since at least 2011, attacking tens of thousands of Syrians with chemical weapons, torture, murder, sexual assault and forcible disappearances.  

“There is overwhelming and compelling evidence that Syria has committed — and continues to commit — serious human rights violations on a massive scale against its people,” Canada and the Netherlands said in a joint statement Oct. 10. “These human rights violations at the hands of the Syrian regime must stop.”

The countries’ joint statement followed the Syrian Arab Republic’s non-appearance at the ICJ’s public hearing Oct. 10 on Canada’s and the Netherlands’ urgent request for the indication of provisional measures, pending the determination on the merits of the alleged violations of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The ICJ reserved judgment.

“It is regrettable that Syria chose not to appear today in these important proceedings, particularly in light of the three-month postponement granted to facilitate its participation,” Canada and the Netherlands said in their statement.

The co-applicants said they are “guided by the strong conviction that there can be no sustainable peace and lasting reconciliation in Syria without justice for victims and survivors. We remain committed to upholding compliance with international law. We call on all States and the international community to support accountability efforts for Syrians. Canada and the Netherlands are hopeful that the measures requested will be granted by the court. This is an important step on the long road towards truth, justice and accountability for Syrians.”

Oral argument on behalf of the co-applicants was made by Alan Kessel, assistant deputy minister and legal adviser of Global Affairs Canada, accompanied by René Lefeber, legal adviser to the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The provisional measures requested by the two countries included that Syria shall immediately:
  • take effective measures to cease and prevent all acts that amount to, or contribute to, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • cease arbitrary detention, and release all persons who are arbitrarily or unlawfully detained;
  • cease all forms of incommunicado detention;
  • allow access to all of its official and unofficial places of detention by independent monitoring mechanisms and medical personnel;
  • allow contact and visitations between detainees and their families and legal counsel; and
  • take urgent measures to improve the conditions of all of its official and unofficial detention facilities to ensure all detainees are treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person in accordance with international standards.

The two countries also asked the ICJ to order Syria not to destroy or render inaccessible any evidence related to their application, including safeguarding any information concerning the cause of death of any detainee who died while in detention or while hospitalized, including forensic examination of the human remains and places of burial. They also asked the ICJ to order that Syria provide the next of kin of any person, who died as a result of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, following arrest, hospitalization or detention, with a death certificate, stating the true cause of death.

Among other requests, the ICJ was asked to order Syria to disclose to the next of kin the location of the burial sites of persons who died as a result of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment following arrest, hospitalization or detention.

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