November 16, 2023

World court initial ruling on Syrian torture “falls way short” say survivors and families of detainees

Today as the International Court of Justice passed interim measures to stop the ongoing torture of more than 136,000 people still detained in Syrian regime prisons, survivors of torture, families of victims of torture and detainees expressed disappointment that the court failed to pass all the measures that would allow them to ensure the safety and whereabouts of their loved ones. Syrian groups also called on states to ensure the measures are enforced.

The hearing brought by the Governments of Canada and the Netherlands against Syria for its ongoing use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including torture of children, gender-based violence and enforced disappearance, opened on 10 October at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. 

After last month’s hearing, the court today ruled that Syria must end its use of torture and arbitrary detention, but it failed to pass measures which would allow medical and monitoring teams to access detention centers and force the regime to share information about the fate and whereabouts of detainees.

Yasmine Almashan, a founding member of the Caesar Families Association, learnt of her brother’s death in a regime detention through the “Caesar photos” — leaked images of thousands of detainees tortured to death in custody. She responded to today’s news:

“The court’s approval today is further evidence of the extent of the violations committed inside Assad’s detention centers, and this ruling should not be ignored by countries that are normalizing relations with the regime.
“But the ruling falls way short. We expected the measures to tell the regime to give us information about our loved ones and allow medical visits to prisons and detention centers.

“As families, we will not stop demanding that Assad and regime officials be held accountable until justice is achieved for our loved ones. This is the first time the Syrian state has been obliged to halt its inhumane treatment and that offers us a flicker of hope that the missing could finally return home.”

Ahmad Helmi, survivor of enforced disappearance and founder of Ta’afi, a survivor-led organization that aims to support and protect victims of detention, torture, and enforced disappearance, said:

“The court’s introduction of interim provisional measures is conclusive evidence of the horror of the crimes of torture committed by the Syrian state, which continues to be systematic and widespread. I am frustrated by the weak language of the ruling and expected further measures to be passed which would help make sure the Syrian regime ends its use of torture.”

Last month families of detainees and survivors of torture from the Truth and Justice Charter, a group of 10 Syrian human rights associations, gathered outside of the court holding photos of their loved ones, asking the court to issue stronger provisional measures than it passed today.

Zahra Albarazi, a legal expert from The Syrian Legal Development Programme said: 

“The atrocity of torture has been extensively documented in Syria. This decision is a vital step towards recognising this documentation and combating impunity through an international court.

“Whether or not Syria implements the provisional measures, this decision will at least highlight and invoke other states’ responsibility towards Syria and play a role in the long-term fight for justice. The ruling is significant for all Syrians because it shifts the balance of power to the victims and survivors.”