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Dutch launch case against Syria over 'horrific' torture

1 min 12Approximate reading time

The Netherlands on Friday launched a bid to hold Syria responsible under international law for "gross human rights violations", in a case that could end up in the UN's top court.

The Dutch government said it was invoking the UN Convention against Torture and that Damascus was also guilty of murder and using poison gas on own citizens.

"The Assad regime has committed horrific crimes time after time. The evidence is overwhelming. There must be consequences," Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a statement.

The Dutch decided to take action after an attempt to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court -- after years of impunity -- was vetoed in the UN Security Council, Blok said.

"The Assad regime has not hesitated to crack down hard on its own population, using torture and chemical weapons, and bombing hospitals," he added.

"The victims of these serious crimes must obtain justice, and we are pursuing that end by calling the perpetrators to account."

The Netherlands said it had informed Damascus via a diplomatic note telling it to stop violations of the UN Convention against Torture and to enter negotiations.

If the two countries cannot resolve the dispute it could then go to arbitration, and, "If no agreement can be reached on this issue, the Netherlands will submit the case to an international court."

The most likely court would be the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the top judicial organ of the United Nations, which deals with disputes between UN member states and breaches of UN treaties.

There was no immediate reaction from Damascus.

Human Rights Watch said the Netherlands was "standing for countless victims" of the Syrian regime.

"All those, particularly governments, that have been appalled by the widespread brutality documented in Syria should publicly welcome this step and explore similar ways to assert the rule of law," said Balkees Jarrah, HRW's associate international justice director.

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