October 10, 2023

Families of Syria’s disappeared and survivors of torture call for an end to torture outside landmark International Court of Justice case

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Today (10 October 2023) Syrian survivors of torture and the families of those still detained and disappeared call for the release of all those facing torture in Assad’s prisons outside the International Court of Justice as the case brought by the Canadian and Dutch authorities against the Syrian state opens in the Hague.

Holding photos of victims of torture and their missing loved ones, families and survivors from the Truth and Justice Charter, a group of 10 different associations, asked the court to issue provisional measures to stop the ongoing practise of torture and arbitrary detention. They’re also calling for an end to the destruction of crucial evidence and for any information about all those detained to be shared with their families.

Mariam Al Hallak, founder of Caesar Family Association, said: “I carry a picture of my 25-year-old son, Ayham Ghazoul, who was tortured and killed only five days after he was arrested at Damascus University in 2012. It is too late for my son but more than 100,000 remain detained in Syria and we must fight for them. There is an urgent need to access the regime’s overcrowded dungeons to find them and provide medical care, food, and water. Their survival is at stake.”

The case was submitted after diplomatic talks with the Syrian regime and more than six months of arbitration attempts failed. However the Syrian state did not appear before the court today. 

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian regime is responsible for the killing of 15,051 people, including 190 children and 94 women due to torture in detention centers since March 2011, with approximately 136,000 detainees or enforced disappearances still being subjected to torture. 

The case will build on years of evidence collected by the UN, international NGOs and Syrian human rights groups, including the personal experiences of many of the family members of detainees and survivors present in the Hague today, highlighting the systematic use of torture in detention as one of the regime’s tools to crush dissent and spread fear amongst the population.

Ghina Al-Shomari, a Syrian activist, advocacy manager for female survivors of detention support network Release Me, whose husband was detained in Syria, said: “Today, Canada and the Netherlands met their commitment to justice and peace, which will be part of their legacy for years to come. This is the first time a legal case has been opened against the Syrian regime at an international court and it is an important step towards justice for victims of torture. Syrians are waiting for other countries to take similar accountability initiatives.

Ezz El-Din Saleh, Co-founder and Executive Director of the human rights group the T’azur Association, said from Qamishli, Syria: “I hope that the court will take effective measures to stop torture and inhuman treatment in Syria, including preventing the use of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance as a primary tool of repression.

“The international community must intensify accountability efforts against perpetrators of human rights violations, individuals and groups, and support the efforts made by the families, associations and associations of victims, and Syrian civil society organizations, in an effort to redress the victims and achieve justice, as a basis for building a comprehensive and sustainable peace.”

From Berlin, Laila Kiki, Executive Director of The Syria Campaign, said: “This is a significant long waited moment and the first time the Syrian state will be held to account for its systematic use of torture to instill fear in civilians and countering the culture of impunity. It serves as a significant message to the global community, that a regime responsible for some of the worst war crimes on the planet should not be allowed back into the diplomatic fold.”

Photographs from outside the trial can be downloaded here. Please credit Tameem Kammouhi, The Syria Campaign.