A visitor looks at photographs of victims of Assad regime prisons, at an exhibition in UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
The International Court of Justice has ordered the Assad regime to end its torture of detainees in Syria.
Thursday’s decision was in a case brought by Canada and the Netherlands over violations of the UN Convention on Torture.
Judge Joan Donoghue read out the court’s decision, which ordered Syria to “take all measures within its power to prevent acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, including by forces under its “control, direction or influence”.
Since the start of Syria’s uprising in March 2011, tens of thousands of people have “disappeared” amid the Assad regime’s attempt to survive. Many of them have been executed, killed by torture, or died from poor conditions in regime prisons.
On June 30, the UN General Assembly voted 89-11, with 62 abstentions, for an independent investigation into the fate of more than 130,000 “disappeared”.
The ICJ ordered the regime to take “effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of any evidence” related to the case.
However, the judges did not command other measures requested by Canada and the Netherlands. They included the cessation of arbitrary and incommunicado detention; access to detainees, safeguarding of information related to detainees’ causes of death; and disclosure of burial sites to relatives.
Yasmin Mashaan, co-founder of the Caesar Families Association, told Syria Direct, “It is good that they instituted [two of] the measures and asked the regime not to destroy evidence. But we expected more than this. We are still between being disappointed, and trying to understand.”
Ahmad Helmi, a survivor of torture and co-founder of the Ta’afi Initiative supporting former detainees, said he was “happy with the fact that the court has acknowledged the urgency of the matter”. However, he explained, “The language was not detailed enough, and there was no obligation for reporting. It did not request any measures to end enforced disappearance.”
French Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Assad
On Wednesday, the Paris Judicial Court issued an international arrest warrant for Bashar al-Assad.
The court’s Specialized Unit for Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes found Assad culpable over the regime’s use of sarin nerve agent, killing more than 1,400 civilians, on multiple sites near Damascus in August 2013.
Arrest warrants were also issued for Assad’s brother Maher, the commander of the 4th Brigade of the Syrian Army; Ghassan Abbas, the director of Branch 450 of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center; and Bassam al-Hassan, a presidential advisor and liaison with the SSRC.
Aida Samani of Civil Rights Defenders, one of the complainants, said in a statement:
We hope that the arrest warrants will send a message loud and clear to the survivors, and everyone affected by the attacks and other atrocity crimes in Syria, that the world has not forgotten them and that the fight for justice will continue.
Despite his concerns about the vagueness of the ICJ’s decision, Helmi welcomed the combination of the two rulings: “Today we have stronger evidence of the crimes in Syria, which I hope is a leap towards justice, or a step towards justice.”