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World Court to hear Syria torture claims on July 19 and 20

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THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The World Court on July 19 and 20 will hear a request by the Netherlands and Canada that it order Syria to cease all acts of torture and arbitrary detention, as part of a case alleging the country has breached a U.N. anti-torture treaty.

The hearing at the Peace Palace, the court’s seat in the Hague, will mark the first time an international court has looked at alleged abuses committed in Syria during 12 years of conflict.

The International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, announced last month that the Netherlands and Canada had filed a case against Damascus for breaching the U.N. convention against torture since 2011.

Syria’s government and President Bashar al-Assad have rejected accusations of torture and extrajudicial killings in a war that the United Nations has said claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

In their application for emergency measures, Canada and the Netherlands asked the court to order Syria to stop all acts of torture and cruel treatment and end arbitrary detentions, among other things.

The ICJ can issue such orders in an effort to ensure a situation does not deteriorate in the several years it generally takes the court to rule on the main claim.

However, it has no power to enforce its rulings.

The case at the ICJ, the U.N.’s highest court, is the first time an international court will hear a case trying to hold the Assad government accountable for gross human rights violations and torture.

Some Syrian regime officials have been prosecuted for acts of torture in universal jurisdiction cases, notably in Germany, but those cases center on individual criminal responsibility.  

“This is different because it is holding the state responsible for torture being committed on an industrial scale,” said British lawyer Toby Cadman who is advising the Dutch government in the case.

Syria’s 12-year civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and drawn in regional and world powers.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, Editing by William Maclean)

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