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The United Nations’ top court held a hearing this week about widespread torture and human rights abuses in Syria, the first time an international tribunal has addressed the brutal methods perpetrated by the Syrian government to crush dissent, the New York Times reported.

The hearing comes a few months after Canada and the Netherlands filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Syria of violating the Convention Against Torture, which all three nations have ratified.

The two Western countries allege that Syria has violated the convention repeatedly and on a “massive scale.” The complaint also cited “abhorrent treatment” of thousands of people held in detention centers, including enforced disappearances and sexual assaults.

It also alleged that the Syrian government has frequently used chemical weapons as a means of torture, to “intimidate and punish the civilian population, resulting in numerous deaths, injuries and severe physical and mental suffering.”

The court will decide whether to issue an emergency ruling demanding that Syria halts its long list of abuses. It does not have the power to prosecute individuals.

However, lawyers and legal analysts explained that a verdict by the ICJ can impact relations between Syria and other countries, such as whether they want to normalize ties with Assad’s government.

It could also influence international financing and aid, as discussions about reconstruction and investment in Syria grow.

Allegations of torture, human rights abuses and the use of chemical weapons on civilians have dogged the Syrian government since the start of the civil war in 2011. Around 14,000 people are estimated to have died in prisons and detention centers operated by Syrian security or intelligence officials.

About 130,000 others remain missing.

Syria has not sent any representative to the court and the government has previously rejected the accusations. Assad has blamed “terrorists” for the violence – an umbrella term used to refer to all critics of the regime and groups that fought against the government during the war.

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