Green Cross appeals for immediate international support for the victims of the Syrian chemical attacks of 21 August 2013

A year ago, on 21 August 2013, several residential areas of Damascus, the Ghoutas, were hit by a major chemical weapons attack that killed an estimated 1,400 civilians and injured many more. International anger and indignation that followed, became strong catalysts for a number of important positive actions, which took place between then and now. Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Conventions, declared its stockpiles and production facilities, allowed international inspectors to verify its declarations, evacuated all the declared stockpiles from the country for destruction. And destruction itself is progressing well: a major component of Syrian chemical warfare agents and dangerous precursors has just been eliminated on board of the American ship Cape Ray. Efforts are continuing to certify the completeness of declarations and to finalize the disposition of Syrian CW production facilities in accordance with the CWC.

But today, one year later, it seems that one important aspect of the Ghouta tragedy is still receiving insufficient attention. This is the plight of those who became victims of chemical attacks in Syria, and that of their families. The still besieged Ghoutas have not received any substantial international aid and the survivors are still suffering severe consequences from their exposure to toxic agents. Green Cross is calling for immediate international support for the victims and points out the necessity of strengthening international efforts to ban all weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East region.

Green Cross recently implemented an emergency aid project in Ghouta together with a Syrian partner organization, Al-Seeraj. The project provided urgently needed medicine against the further spread of diseases within the population already weakened by the chemical attacks. But the ill and traumatized people need much more support. “It is a real humanitarian disaster that is taking place in the besieged areas,” says K. A., a woman aged 27, who has lost all her family members during the attack on Zamalka in Eastern Ghouta. She stayed in her besieged neighborhood despite all the horror and is now devoting all her strength as a medical assistant to the suffering people.

Since early 2008, Green Cross has supported local social-medical care projects in the Halabja Region in northern Iraq, infamous for the deadly poison gas attacks ordered by the regime of Saddam Hussein in 1988. These projects are focusing on the long-term sociological, psychological and physical health effects of those chemical attacks and show how important it is to support the victims even a long time after the event.

Falah Muradkhin, survivor of the 1988 attacks and who is today project coordinator of the local partner organization of Green Cross, Wadi Iraq, mourns the victims of the Ghouta attacks and points out that “25 years ago the technology was not available to send immediate news and reports to the world about what happened in Halabja. Today, however, the situation is different. The horrible pictures from the Ghoutas were quickly disseminated and seen by many people.”

Yet little action was taken to help the victims of the attacks and no adequate response has been seen neither from the United Nations nor from countries in a position to provide help. More than two years ago OPCW established International Support Network for Victims of Chemical Weapons and a related Trust Fund, but so far, it seems member states have little appetite to put those specifically designed mechanisms to help the victims of the Ghouta chemical massacre.

That is why Green Cross is calling on the day of commemoration for immediate international support for the forgotten victims of the Ghouta attacks.

Green Cross is also supporting the establishment of a world truly free of chemical weapons and therefore calls the remaining six non-State Parties – Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea and South Sudan – to join the CWC (Chemical Weapons Convention). And in view of the close interweaving between all different kinds of weapons of mass destruction, Green Cross calls for the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction free zone in the Middle East as a next step. “There will be no real security for the people living in this politically tense region as long as there are weapons of mass destruction stocked,” concludes Stephan Robinson, Unit Manager (Water, Legacy) of Green Cross.

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