UN Syria Commission welcomes landmark ICJ order to Syria to prevent torture and destruction of evidence
GENEVA (16 November 2023) – The UN Syria Commission of Inquiry welcomes today’s landmark order by the International Court of Justice in The Hague binding the Syrian Arab Republic to take all measures within its power to prevent acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and ensure that its officials - as well as any organizations or persons under its control, direction or influence - do not commit any such acts.
“This is a landmark order by the world’s top court to stop torture, enforced disappearances and deaths in Syria’s detention facilities,” said UN Syria Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro. “Such violations have been a hallmark of the Syrian conflict for 12 years – and were among its chief root causes.”
“While we have seen dozens of criminal trials of individual Syrians for war crimes and crimes against humanity, this is the first time that the Syrian State itself is part of a judicial process – required to defend its abysmal record of violations of the Convention against Torture before international justices at the highest level,” Pinheiro said.
In its decision, the Court also ordered Syria to take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of any evidence related to the allegations of acts falling within the Convention against Torture – such as medical records.
“For the tens of thousands who have been arbitrarily detained, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared and killed in Syria’s detention facilities, this process has reignited hopes for justice,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally. “Our Commission has investigated such violations since 2011. We have seen first-hand the long-term, immense suffering they cause not only the detainees, but also their families.
“Millions of Syrians are still searching for disappeared and missing loved ones,” Megally said. “The provisional measures handed down today are consistent with recommendations our Commission has made for more than a decade. It is long overdue for the Government to take these measures. Detainees, survivors and their families deserve no less."
The Commission’s July 2023 report documents severe physical harms among survivors, including impaired bodily functions, chronic physical pain, impotency, miscarriages, as well as multiple forms of mental harm, including post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, problems focusing, substance abuse, flashbacks, and fear of leaving the home. Both physical and mental harms often resulted in suicides among torture victims.
“Women, men, girls and boys in Syrian detention have been subjected to horrific sexual violence, including rape, threat of rape, sexual torture, abuse and humiliation,” said Commissioner Lynn Welchman. “Stigma around rape, coupled with a common societal presumption that women detainees were invariably subject to sexual assault, has meant that women and girls continue to suffer long after their release. The Court’s order today will mean a lot to them and their families, and they will expect the Government to implement it in full.”
Background: The International Court of Justice delivered its order after Canada and the Netherlands in June filed a joint application to start proceedings against Syria for alleged violations of the Convention against Torture. The application sought provisional measures “to preserve and protect the rights owed to them under the Convention against Torture, which Syria continues to violate, and protect the lives and physical and mental integrity of individuals within Syria who are currently or are at risk of being subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The full provisional measures ordered by the Court are available here.
During the public hearing held at the Court in the Hague in October, the applicants referred to several Commission reports, documenting widespread and systematic patterns of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including enforced disappearances, in detention facilities across Syria since 2011.
Background on the Commission: The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which comprises Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Mr. Hanny Megally, and Ms. Lynn Welchman, has been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Syrian Government’s decades long practices of arbitrary detention and torture were among the main grievances that triggered the protests in early 2011 when people openly started calling for the release of political prisoners. The brutal response of the Government with mass arrests of demonstrators leading to torture and numerous deaths in detention, quickly spiralled into the bloodiest civil war of this century that still rages on. The Commission Chair Paulo Pinheiro recently told the UN General Assembly that Syria is witnessing the largest escalation in hostilities in four years.
More information on the work of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria can be found at: https://www.ohchr.org/coisyria