(New York) – Justice remains elusive for the victims of the chemical weapons attacks on Ghouta, near Damascus, which killed hundreds of people, Human Rights Watch said today, on the anniversary of the August 21, 2013, attacks.
The attacks were the most significant use of chemical agents since the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein, who used them in an attack on Iraqi Kurds in 1988, but no one has been held to account. Available evidence strongly suggests that Syrian forces carried out the attacks, though the government denies responsibility. Subsequently, under considerable international pressure, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to eliminate its chemical weapons.
“Important though it is, the removal of chemical weapons from Syria’s arsenal will do nothing for the hundreds of victims who died a year ago and the relatives who survive them,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Closure of the chemical weapons issue in Syria will be possible only when those who ordered and executed the Ghouta attacks have been held to account and are behind bars.”
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on September 27, 2013, requiring Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons and allow access to weapons inspectors. On June 23, the Joint Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations charged with removing Syria’s chemical weapons material announced that their task was complete.
However, international efforts to ensure credible justice for these and other ongoing grave human rights crimes in Syria have proved elusive. On May 22, Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution that would have referred the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Over 100 nongovernmental organizations urged the Council to approve the resolution, more than 60 countries co-sponsored it, and 13 of the Council’s 15 members voted for it.
Broad support for the resolution from governments and nongovernmental groups alike reflects the widespread international determination to achieve justice for serious crimes in Syria. Governments that supported that effort should remain committed to seeking justice for victims in Syria, whether in the Security Council, UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, or through other avenues, including the use of universal jurisdiction, Human Rights Watch said.