On November 16, 2023, the International Court of Justice voted 13 – 2 in favor of issuing a binding Order in the case of Canada and the Netherlands v. Syrian Arab Republic. The Order adopted two provisional measures, which require Syria to prevent acts of torture and other cruel punishment, ensure that its officials and organizations do not commit torture or other cruel punishments, and preserve any evidence related to the allegations of the case. A Request for the Indication of Provisional Measures seeking such an order had been entered on June 8, 2023, by Canada and the Netherlands, for which oral arguments were held on October 10, 2023. The Request came alongside Canada’s and the Netherlands’ Joint Application instituting proceedings against Syria for violations of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Request and Application were made pursuant to Articles 36 and 41 of the Statute of the Court, Article 30 of the Convention against Torture, and Articles 73, 74, and 75 of the Rules of the Court. Vice-President Gevorgian and Judge Xue voted against both provisional measures, with Vice-President Gevorgian appending a dissenting opinion and Judge Xue appending a declaration.
The Application and Request alleged that Syria had used “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in the violent repression of civilian demonstrations, the use of chemical weapons against civilians, and through the use of sexual and gender based violence against detainees. The Application, on page 2, notes that “Syria has consistently denied wrongdoing, despite clear and compelling evidence demonstrating the sheer magnitude of violations of the Convention against Torture that are attributable to Syria and that continue to this day.” Despite a ceasefire being in place, Syria has continued to violate the Convention and offenders have had “continued impunity.”
Syria and Syrian officials have long faced criticism and condemnation of their actions during the Arab Spring and the resulting civil war in their country. In recent years, Syrian officials have been facing criminal legal action and conviction in foreign countries for their crimes, with universal jurisdiction serving as the basis for the proceedings. In January 2022, Anwar Raslan, a colonel in the Syrian intelligence service, was sentenced to life in prison by a German court for “torture, killings, serious depravation of liberty, rape, sexual assault, and hostage taking” that had taken place during his time as overseer of a Syrian prison. Most recently, on November 15, 2023, French judges issued arrest warrants for Bashar Al-Assad and three others for their use of chemical weapons against civilians.