Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

Canada, The Netherlands take Syria to International Court of Justice

Published on: 15 March, 2021


February marked a brutal anniversary: the tenth anniversary of the Syrian civil war.

During the last decade it is safe to say that every single human rights violation international and international crime has been perpetrated in Syria.

But there has not been meaningful accountability for these crimes.

In a recent development Canada has decided to join the effort to bring Syria to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the torture of Syrian civilians. It is joining the effort initiated by The Netherlands to eventually bring Syria to the Hague over Bashar al Bassad’s programme of systematic torture and other atrocities.

The court, situated in the Hague adjudicates inter-state disputes and has not  been used to bring individuals perpetrators of international crimes to account.

Writing in his blog, Justiceinconflict Mark Kersten says that the move end up being largely symbolic but that symbols matter. He believes it is important that the Syrian government remains ‘the pariah’.

The ICJ initiative is important because it is clear that those responsible in Syrian will not face the International Criminal Court (ICC) any time soon. Assad’s protectors, particularly Russia has ensured that the Security Council will not be able to refer Syria to the ICC.

Does this mean that Canada will potentially be more proactive in cases of this nature? Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mark Kersten, fellow at the Monk school of Global Affairs at the  University of Toronto says: ‘This government still has a very piecemeal approach to crimes both internationally and domestically. This action does not strike me as habitual.’

Effective forum?

Asked whether he thinks the ICJ is an effective forum Kersten says: ‘I think any effort like this has some chance to produce real accountability.’

When  asked whether she thinks the ICJ could be an effective forum to bring the Syrian case to, Olympia Bekou, Professor the University of Nottingham said to Al Jazeera: ‘Whilst the perpetrators will not personally face trial for core international crimes, ICJ proceedings would be limited to determining whether or not there has been a breach of an international treaty.’

‘In the absence of other avenues of justice for Syria, ICJ proceedings, within the limits of the Court’s jurisdiction, can make a demonstrable contribution to the pursuit of justice and accountability on behalf of the international community as a whole. But the effects of such a case are more likely to be symbolic’, says Bekou.

Kersten also said the case could remind people of the severity of the crimes committed in Syria. He says: ‘For a lot of people the war in Syria and the atrocities committed there are receding into the rearview mirror of history. Everything that keep attention on those atrocities is important.’