Netherlands puts Syria on notice for human rights abuses

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."

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'Important signal'

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.

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International rule of law

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.

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."

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ls/sms AFP, Reuters)