The Syrian Network for Human Rights revealed on Tuesday, October 25, that they had compiled accounts of 49 separate attacks of chemical gas spanning across 17 different regions in the last year. The count began September 27th 2013 and revealed that 16 civilians including eight children and 27 armed opposition fighters have been killed, in addition to some 1,000 wounded. Given that it has also been a year since the UNSC adopted Resolution 2118 reporting a strong determination to “prohibit Syria from using, developing, producing, otherwise acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons,” it is alarming that 49 attacks, likely with the dual-use chemical, chlorine, have transpired since then. Syria also joined the Chemical Weapons Convention on September 14, 2013, and it entered into force for the country on October 14, 2013; Article I of the CWC states that “[e]ach State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances: (1) to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone; (2) To use chemical weapons…”
William Wiley, leader of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability revealed that the group has been building three cases against a range of Syrian government officials for war crimes committed since the advent of violence waged against the Syrian people. He believes that “by the end of the year those three cases will be as good as any cases we’ve ever done in our careers because of the strength of the documentation.” Wiley himself has been a part of the Rwanda and Yugoslavia war crimes tribunals. The war crimes are targeted against the Syrian National Security Bureau and the Security Committee of Deir al-Zor province. The case will focus on the hostilities conducted by the Syrian regime including the use of chemical weapons and bombings on civilian areas.
Unfortunately no court has yet made itself available for the prosecution of these crimes. Diplomats have been struggling with the question of whether or not the cases will ever be heard. No court is willing and the International Criminal Court (ICC), the usual avenue for war crimes, is blocked by the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UNSC. Human rights activists remain patient and hopeful stating that “justice often catches up with wrongdoers even though it often takes decades.”
Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague is continuing its Fact-Finding Mission investigation of alleged uses of chlorine as a weapon in Syria. As noted above, the CWC bans the use of any chemical, whether listed in the Convention or not but also including insecticides and riot control agents, as weapons in warfare.