On Tuesday, October 10, 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held its first public hearing session on the case on the Application of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, brought by Canada and the Netherlands as State Parties to the Convention, against the Syrian regime (formally named the Canada and the Netherlands v. Syrian Arab Republic). At the request of the two countries, the session focused on imposing what are known as provisional measures on the Syrian regime to compel it to immediately cease torture against potential victims, while the trial of the Syrian regime for the alleged violation of the Convention Against Torture proceeds.
According to the court session’s transcript, the case draws upon a number of UN sources, as well as on data provided by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), which was cited as a source 14 times, while the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI) was cited 24 times.
In her oral argument, Annemarieke Künzli, Legal Counsel to the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, indicated that the Netherlands and Canada have made joint efforts to move forward with good-faith attempts at negotiations with the Syrian regime, which are well-documented through the exchange of 66 Notes Verbales over the course of three years, as well as through two in-person meetings held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in April and October 2022. All of these efforts have been fruitless, however, Ms. Künzli lamented.
On the imperative need to impose provisional measures, Teresa Crockett, the Canada’s Deputy Director of the Accountability, Human Rights, and United Nations Law Division of Global Affairs Canada, stressed that there is no doubt that the Syrian regime’s continued and repeated violations of the Convention Against Torture “are causing irreparable prejudice to the rights at issue”. Such conditions, she underlined, require urgent intervention from the ICJ.
Furthermore, Ms. Crockett pointed out that during the three-month delay period granted to the Syrian regime at its request, SNHR has documented no fewer than 15 cases of death due to torture at the hands of the Syrian regime. She also referenced SNHR’s extensive report which addresses the charges that were met with the capital punishment: “[Those accusations have] been leveled in a widespread and indiscriminate manner by the regime’s security agencies against thousands of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons . . . with no grounds except for interrogation records containing ‘confessions’ extracted under the duress of torture.”