The Hague opens door for other trials against Syrian regime
Enab Baladi – Baraa Khattab
After the International Court of Justice (ICJ) postponed the date of its first session in the case filed by Canada and the Netherlands against the Syrian regime, which focused on “countless violations of international law and horrific crimes” against Syrians, several questions arose about the reasons for the ICJ’s approval of the Syrian regime’s request for postponement, and hopes were raised for other trials against the regime as it is the first case to be filed against it.
On July 15, the United Nations’ highest judicial body decided to postpone the date of its first hearing in the case against the Syrian regime at the request of the Syrian regime government.
In a statement, the court stated that the first hearing session was postponed from July 19 to October 10 and 11.
The court, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, said it had reached its decision after examining “the views and arguments of the two parties following Syria’s request for the postponement.”
The Canadian and Dutch foreign ministries commented on the postponement of the International Court of Justice in a joint statement on July 22, in which they said, “Canada and the Netherlands regret that the hearings on July 19 and 20 before the International Court of Justice regarding their request to take temporary measures to stop the ongoing acts of torture in Syria and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have been postponed for a period of three months at the request of the Syrian regime.”
Syrian journalist and human rights activist Mansour al-Omari told Enab Baladi that the ICJ’s statement did not mention the reasons for the postponement, but it is clear that the Syrian regime is behind this because the Netherlands and Canada issued a statement regretting the postponement.
He added that the postponement in court cases has several reasons, the most common of which is requesting additional time to prepare for the session, in addition to requesting time to read files, appoint lawyers, and other procedural matters, according to al-Omari.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Syrian regime condemned the position of Canada and the Netherlands on the postponement, and the official Syrian News Agency (SANA) quoted a source in the Foreign Ministry as saying that the two countries believe that any measure that is not in line with their desire and policy is a cause for criticism. They cannot afford any slap because it could undermine the foundations of the movement they are taking.”
The source also claimed that the joint statement issued by the foreign ministries of the two countries “exudes lies, as does the campaign they are leading against Syria, which lacks the slightest degree of credibility,” he said.
The regime’s official source continued, “The history of Canada and the Netherlands is stained with the crimes that were committed in the colonies and against the indigenous people of the country,” according to SANA.
What’s the case?
The International Court of Justice announced that the Netherlands and Canada had filed a case against the Syrian regime regarding torture in Syrian prisons based on Syria’s non-compliance with the Anti-Torture Convention, and the two countries demanded “emergency measures” to protect those at risk of torture.
In the statement issued by the ICJ, issued on June 12, Canada and the Netherlands stated in the filed lawsuit that the regime committed “countless” violations of international law, starting at least in 2011.
According to the lawsuit filed, the violations include “the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees, inhumane conditions in places of detention, enforced disappearance, the use of sexual and gender-based violence, and violence against children.”
The plaintiffs are calling for the court to impose “emergency measures,” including issuing orders to the regime to release arbitrarily detained prisoners and allowing international monitors to enter detention centers.
Regime’s accountability with new cases
The details of the court are still vague and unclear, despite much talk about it, but it has opened “great” hopes about the possibility of holding other trials against the regime.
According to al-Omari, this lawsuit in the International Court of Justice related to the Convention against Torture could serve as an example for other complaints in court.
It is possible to file a complaint in court regarding any treaty or agreement to which Syria is a party and has violated, such as filing a complaint about Syria’s violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, specifically the lack of fair trial and arbitrary detention.
A complaint can be filed about Syria’s violation of the Child Convention, specifically the torture of children and the failure to separate them from adults in places of detention.
Al-Omari indicated that only states have the right to submit complaints to the court, and therefore, organizations and individuals do not have the right to submit them, but organizations can provide additional information to the court at their request.
UN’s principal judicial organ
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946.
The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). Of the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York.
The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.
It is not within the ICJ’s jurisdiction to address cases at the individual level. In other words, it does not have the jurisdiction to implement international criminal law, the basic principles of which include individual criminal responsibility. Rather, it is a court that is only concerned with complaints between member states of the United Nations.
The International Court of Justice deals with criminal issues, such as torture, as states violate their obligations under ratified treaties, which constitutes the basis of what is known as a legal dispute between two states.
In such a case of legal disputes, the matter is not limited to the fact that it deals with bilateral relations between two states but rather relates to the duties of the violating state towards all other states parties to the treaty and the duty of those states to confront these violations and put an end to them.
The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.
One-third of the members are elected every three years, and no two judges with the same nationality are allowed. In the event of the death of one of the member judges, a replacement judge with the same nationality as the deceased is re-elected and holds his seat until the end of his term.
In 2022, the President of the Syrian regime issued Law No. 16 of 2022 to criminalize torture, as he justified the reasons for issuing the law in accordance with the “constitutional obligations of the Syrian state that prohibit torture” to comply with the provisions of the Convention Against Torture of 1984, to which Syria joined in 2004.
The Syrian Torture Criminalization Act of 2022 came about 18 years after the date of Syria’s accession to the Convention and more than 35 years after the Convention entered into force, and the number of its member states is currently 173.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention and opened the door for signature, ratification, and accession to it in 1984, and the Convention has been in force since 1987.
The Syrian law came about a year after the Canadian government requested formal negotiations under the United Nations Convention against Torture to hold the Syrian government accountable for violations against the Syrian people since 2011.
In its announced request in 2021, Canada stressed its repeated calls to the regime’s government, calling on it to end the gross human rights violations against the Syrian people.
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