The Netherlands on Friday said it would hold Syria responsible for “gross human rights violations,” including the use of chemical weapons against civilians and systematic torture.
In an act that could trigger a case at the UN’s top court, Dutch officials invoked the UN Convention against Torture, saying the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad must be held responsible for committing atrocities against the Syrian people.
“Large numbers of Syrians have been tortured, murdered, forcibly disappeared and subjected to poison-gas attacks, or have lost everything fleeing for their lives,” said Foreign Minister Stef Blok in a letter presented to Dutch lawmakers. “There must be consequences.”
Read more: Refugees in Germany: Fleeing Syria and Bashar Assad’s henchmen
Dutch officials said the Syrian government has been notified of the legal action. If Syria does not enter in negotiations under the UN framework, “the Netherlands will submit the case to an international court,” likely the International Court of Justice based in The Hague.
Syria signed the UN Convention against Torture in 2004, making it accountable to the international treaty in the eyes of the UN.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the legal measure was necessary to send an “important signal to the other dictators of this world.”
“We have indications that we might have the support of other countries” in pursuing the international law case, he added.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he welcomed the Dutch initiative to hold the Syrian regime to responsible for torture and other human rights violations.
Read more: Hunting Bashar Assad’s henchmen in Syria
More than 200,000 civilians have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2011, when the regime launched a brutal crackdown against pro-democracy supporters calling for Assad to step down and release political prisoners.
Syria has been accused of using chemical weapons in civilian areas
The Syrian regime has also been accused of using chemical weapons against civilian populations, including the April 2017 gas attack that pushed the US to fire missiles at military targets on Syrian soil.
Human rights groups have praised the Dutch government’s efforts to hold Syria accountable, with Human Rights Watch saying other countries “should publicly welcome this step and explore similar ways to assert the rule of law.”
Read more: Opinion: Europe and the US have completely failed Syria
Syria has been engulfed in a devastating civil war since 2011 after Syrian President Bashar Assad lost control over large parts of the country to multiple revolutionary groups. The conflict has since drawn in foreign powers and brought misery and death to Syrians.
Syria’s army, officially known as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), is loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is fighting to restore the president’s rule over the entire country. The SAA has been fighting alongside a number of pro-Assad militias such as the National Defense Force and has cooperated with military advisors from Russia and Iran, which back Assad.
Turkey, which is also part of the US-led coalition against IS, has actively supported rebels opposed to Assad. It has a tense relationship with its American allies over US cooperation with Kurdish fighters, who Ankara says are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. Turkey has launched multiple military offensives targeting Kurdish militias.
The Kremlin has proven to be a powerful friend to Assad. Russian air power and ground troops officially joined the fight in September 2015 after years of supplying the Syrian army. Moscow has come under fire from the international community for the high number of civilian casualties during its airstrikes. However, Russia’s intervention turned the tide in war in favor of Assad.
A US-led coalition of more than 50 countries, including Germany, began targeting IS and other terrorist targets with airstrikes in late 2014. The anti-IS coalition has dealt major setbacks to the militant group. The US has more than a thousand special forces in the country backing the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The Free Syrian Army grew out of protests against the Assad regime that eventually turned violent. Along with other non-jihadist rebel groups, it seeks the ouster of President Assad and democratic elections. After suffering a number of defeats, many of its members defected to hardline militant groups. It garnered some support from the US and Turkey, but its strength has been greatly diminished.
Fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamists has become its own conflict. The US-led coalition against the “Islamic State” has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. The Kurdish YPG militia is the main component of the SDF. The Kurds have had a tacit understanding with Assad.
“Islamic State” (IS) took advantage of regional chaos to capture vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Seeking to establish its own “caliphate,” IS has become infamous for its fundamentalist brand of Islam and its mass atrocities. IS is on the brink of defeat after the US and Russia led separate military campaigns against the militant group.
IS is not the only terrorist group that has ravaged Syria. A number of jihadist militant groups are fighting in the conflict, warring against various rebel factions and the Assad regime. One of the main jihadist factions is Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib province and has ties with al-Qaeda.
Iran has supported Syria, its only Arab ally, for decades. Eager to maintain its ally, Tehran has provided Damascus with strategic assistance, military training and ground troops when the conflict emerged in 2011. The Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah also supports the Assad regime, fighting alongside Iranian forces and paramilitary groups in the country.
ls/sms AFP, Reuters)