Syria snubs the Hague hearings into torture allegations

Photograph: CIJ-ICJ/UN-ONU, Capital Photos/Frank van Beek - Courtesy of the ICJ

The Dutch and the Canadians told judges at the International Court of Justice on Tuesday that Syria has tortured thousands of people since the civil war began more than a decade ago, asking the judges to order Damascus to stop the widespread abuse of detainees. 

The Netherlands wants the Syrian government to end the “persistent and recurring practice of torture” Dutch lawyer Rene Lefeber told the UN’s high court. 

Damascus refused to turn up to the proceedings, telling the court it would submit arguments in writing. 

The two countries announced in June they were bringing a complaint before The Hague-based court. 

In 2020, the Dutch informed the government of Bashar al-Assad that it intended to move forward with bringing Syria to account under the United Nations Convention against Torture. 

The treaty requires parties to attempt mediation before going to court. Over the past two years, the Netherlands have exchanged more than 60 letters with Syrian officials and held two in-person meetings. 

Dutch lawyers told the 15-judge panel that the Syrians have “delayed and obfuscated at every turn.” 

Relatives setting up photos of their loved ones outside of the court ahead of the hearing. Photo: Molly Quell

A few dozen Syrians gathered across from the court, waving opposition flags and displaying photos of their loved ones who they say have been tortured or killed by the regime. “We want justice,” a woman who said she had lost five of her relatives told Dutch News.

A second day of hearings scheduled for Wednesday has been canceled because of Syria’s absence. The court is likely to make a ruling in the coming weeks. 

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