Ongoing Chemical Weapons Use by Syrian Regime Demands Accountability

On 11 August, the Syrian National Coalition's Special Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Najib Ghadbian, submitted a letter to the Security Council ahead of the consultations by acting UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Mr. Kim Won-soo, on chemical weapons use in Syria. The letter calls on the Security Council to:

  • Ensure that the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism has full, unimpeded access to the locations attached as Annex I and to all facilities, individuals, and materials in those areas.  While we understand that this will be a challenging mission, it is vital that the UN and OPCW jointly investigate the regime's use of these weapons thoroughly. The deliberate obstructionism of the Syrian regime, and its refusal to guarantee the safety of the Joint Mission’s staff, must not be permitted to derail, delay or otherwise compromise the investigators’ mission;
  • Instruct the Joint Investigative Mechanism to cooperate constructively with the Syrian National Coalition and our forces on the ground, the Free Syrian Army, who stand ready to assist the Joint Investigative Mechanism in its efforts to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks;
  • Protect Syrian civilians from future chemical weapons attacks by stopping the Syrian regime’s ability to kill by air.  Assad’s aircraft are the primary delivery mechanism for chemical weapons today, and the leading indiscriminate killer of Syrian civilians.  To stop future chlorine attacks, the Security Council must deny the regime its ability to kill by air;
  • Enforce resolution 2118 (2013) by applying Chapter VII measures to the situation in Syria;
  • End impunity in Syria by referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

For a full copy of the letter and its Annex, click here. 


 

H.E. Mrs. U. Joy Ogwu
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations
President of the UN Security Council
 
11 August 2015
 
Your Excellency,
 
On behalf of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, I write to you regarding the Security Council’s unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2235 (2015).  If implemented effectively and rigorously enforced, this resolution has the ability to send a strong signal to the Syrian regime that its use of chemical weapons will not go unaccounted for.
 
The Syrian regime has much to account for.  Two years ago this month, Syrian regime forces indiscriminately attacked the civilian-occupied areas of Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zamalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus with surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin (A/HRC/25/65).  The sarin attacks killed 1,429 people.  The vast majority of the victims were civilians. Many were women and children. 
 
The illegal and indiscriminate attacks on eastern Ghouta were followed by systematic and repeated chemical weapons attacks across Syria’s opposition-held areas.  In the two years since the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2118 (2013) prohibiting the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, there have been at least 46 documented chemical weapons attacks in Syria, most occurring through the weaponisation of the toxic chemical chlorine gas.  In July 2015 alone, the Violations Documentation Centre documented four separate chemical weapons attacks which took place in the opposition-held areas of Deir Ezzor and the Damascus Suburbs (see Annex I). 
 
Chlorine is now the Syrian regime’s chemical weapon of choice.  In almost all of the chemical attacks perpetrated since August 2013, victims have exhibited symptoms consistent with chlorine gas, including redness in the eyes, runny noses, trachea spasms and wheezing breathing.  The perpetrators of these chemical attacks have been consistently clear: Syrian regime air forces.  So, too, have the vehicles through which such chemicals are deployed: helicopters.  Thus, of the 37 witnesses interviewed by the OPCW Fact Finding Mission in August 2014, a total of 32 saw or heard the sound of the helicopter at the time of chemical weapons attacks, while 26 individuals heard the peculiar sound of the falling barrel bombs containing toxic chemicals (OPCW S/1230/2014).  Only the Syrian regime has aerial capacity.  Only opposition-held areas were targeted by chemical attacks.
 
There is no question that effective implementation of Security Council resolution 2235 will lead to the identification of the Syrian regime as responsible for the chemical weapons attacks in Syria.  The only question is whether the Security Council will act to provide the deterrence the Syrian people need and the justice they deserve.  Your Excellency, the Security Council has already provided for Chapter VII consequences to the use of chemical weapons by the regime in resolution 2118. That is why, today, I appeal to the Security Council to take the following steps:
  • Ensure that the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism has full, unimpeded access to the locations attached as Annex I and to all facilities, individuals, and materials in those areas.  While we understand that this will be a challenging mission, it is vital that the UN and OPCW jointly investigate the regime's use of these weapons thoroughly. The deliberate obstructionism of the Syrian regime, and its refusal to guarantee the safety of the Joint Mission’s staff, must not be permitted to derail, delay or otherwise compromise the investigators’ mission;
  • Instruct the Joint Investigative Mechanism to cooperate constructively with the Syrian National Coalition and our forces on the ground, the Free Syrian Army, who stand ready to assist the Joint Investigative Mechanism in its efforts to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks;
  • Protect Syrian civilians from future chemical weapons attacks by stopping the Syrian regime’s ability to kill by air.  Assad’s aircraft are the primary delivery mechanism for chemical weapons today, and the leading indiscriminate killer of Syrian civilians.  To stop future chlorine attacks, the Security Council must deny the regime its ability to kill by air;
  • Enforce resolution 2118 (2013) by applying Chapter VII measures to the situation in Syria;
  • End impunity in Syria by referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Your Excellency, the Syrian National Coalition is hopeful that resolution 2235 (2015) will lay the groundwork towards the justice and accountability that the victims of the regime’s chemical weapons attacks deserve.  We are eager to assist the OPCW-UN investigators towards this end.  Let us be clear, however, that chemical weapons are just one tool in the Syrian regime’s vicious arsenal of war and they are by no means the most lethal.  Indiscriminate aerial attacks using conventional weapons are now responsible for over 60 percent of all civilian deaths across the country.  In areas such as Zabadani, aerial attacks are killing civilians en masse, razing civilian infrastructure to the ground and helping to perpetuate a policy of ethnic cleansing.  The Syrian regime’s indiscriminate aerial attacks can and must be stopped.  On behalf of our people, we therefore ask that you employ all measures necessary to stop chemical and conventional attacks across Syria, beginning through the authorisation of a safe zone protected by a no-fly zone over all of Syria. 
 
Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
 
Dr. Najib Ghadbian
Special Representative to the United Nations
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National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces
Committed to a free, democratic, and pluralistic Syria.