Netherlands and Canada governments file torture complaint against Syria over ‘unlawful killing’ of thousands of civilians

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The governments of the Netherlands and Canada have filed a complaint against Syria in the International Court of Justice for breaches of the UN Convention against Torture.  

The complaint claims Syria has failed to respect its obligations under international treaty law for widespread human rights violations, including acts of torture, prohibited by the Convention – a treaty Syria is party to.

Since the beginning of anti-government protests in March 2011 more than half a million Syrian civilians have been killed, over a million severely injured, and 12million people displaced from their homes.

Torture survivor Ahmad Helmi spoke to Sky News from the Netherlands.

He said: “I wasn’t legally detained, I was forcibly disappeared. I was tortured for around three years because of my non-violent activism. They didn’t torture us for information, they were trying to break our souls.”

Ahmad Helmi is now 33 and works as a human rights campaigner in the Netherlands.
Ahmad Helmi is now 33 and works as a human rights campaigner in the Netherlands.

Ahmad, 33, was part of non-violent demonstrations until one day in November 2012 he disappeared. He was not released until October 2015.

“I hope the court can impose preventive measures to stop the ongoing torture. We know what that verdict will be because I was tortured in the government death camps, and I have witnessed hundreds of others being tortured, too. I saw many of them die in there while their families didn’t have a shred of information about them.”

Ahmad, who now works as a human rights campaigner, says he hopes the move will help victims obtain recognition.

“I remember the day when they opened the door to me, I looked back and my eyes met my cellmates’ eyes and in that moment of non-verbal communication, their eyes said ‘please try to do something for us.’ So I will never stop.”

Syrian authorities are accused of enforced disappearance, ill-treatment and torture using an extensive network of detention facilities throughout Syria.

The complaint says several hundred thousand Syrian civilians have been unlawfully killed and subject to arbitrary detention.

It claims hundreds of detention centres have been established to imprison and torture dissidents and that a large number of anti-government protesters have died or suffered serious injury and abuse as a result of torture.

Those arrested include peaceful protesters involved in organising, filming, and reporting on protests as well as journalists, humanitarian assistance providers, lawyers, and doctors.

The Netherlands, Canada and Syria are parties to the Convention Against Torture, which allows state parties to refer the non-compliance to the ICJ, should negotiations and arbitration fail.

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Toby Cadman is a barrister at Guernica 37 Chambers, which is assisting the Dutch government.

He said: “This filing is particularly important as tens of thousands of civilians remain in Government detention being subjected to acts of torture and other inhuman treatment.

Toby Cadman, Human Rights Barrister at Guernica 37 Chambers is assisting the Dutch government in this case.
Toby Cadman, Human Rights Barrister at Guernica 37 Chambers is assisting the Dutch government in this case.

“The joint move by the Netherlands and Canada puts pressure for these violations to cease, perpetrators to be held to account, and victims to receive reparations.”

“It is of critical importance and could offer victims a realistic prospect of truth, justice and accountability on the international level,” Mr Cadman said.

The move comes less than a month after the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was warmly welcomed on to the stage at the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that some of their members – like the Saudis – provided weapons and ammunition to rebel groups through much of Syria’s civil war.

Sky News has reached out to the Syrian government for comment.

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