(New York) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should urgently appoint a team of investigators to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Human Rights Watch and 44 other human rights and humanitarian groups said in a statement released today. Such a move would promote justice and deter the use of these prohibited weapons.
The UN Security Council has failed to replace the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons due to repeated Russian vetoes. As a result, there is no longer a UN team with the independence, technical expertise, and mandate to identify the parties responsible for deadly chemical attacks in Syria. Most recently the chemical weapons attack on the town of Douma in the Damascus countryside on April 7, 2018, claimed dozens of lives.
“Secretary-General Guterres should heed this plea on behalf of the suffering civilians of Syria, who have been left in the lurch by a divided and dysfunctional Security Council,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “The secretary-general has the means and authority to take command of the situation as his predecessors did by establishing an investigative unit that will unmask those behind chemical attacks in Syria. We don’t need another veto, we need leadership.”
On April 7, the world once again was shocked by the heart-wrenching images of Syrian men, women and children who appeared to have suffocated in their houses in Douma, a suburb of Damascus that has been under furious attacks for weeks by the Syrian-Russian military alliance.
While investigations are still pending, claims have been made that the Syrian government has again used chemical weapons against its own people. The Syrian and Russian governments have vehemently denied that a chemical attack occurred.
The use of chemical weapons constitutes a war crime. The international prohibition on the use, development, production, stockpiling, and transfer of chemical weapons is absolute and cannot be left to political wrangling.
Since 2013, the UN Commission of Inquiry has recorded over 35 chemical weapons attacks in Syria. After refusing to accept findings on Syrian government responsibility for last year’s attack on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, Russia used its Security Council veto to block the UN from maintaining a UN-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons joint investigative mechanism working independently and impartially to uncover the perpetrators for such attacks. On April 10, Russia again vetoed a resolution that would have established a UN mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria.
As a result, there is no longer a UN mechanism with the independence, technical expertise, and mandate working to promptly identify who is to blame for these chemical weapons attacks.
We, the undersigned organizations, urge UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to step up in defense of civilians everywhere by activating an independent UN mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria.
Previous UN Secretaries-General created similar inquiries. We cannot afford more Security Council deadlock, paralysis, or vetoes. Taking this step is fully in line with the Secretary General’s authority and would help ensure that the perpetrators of these atrocities are exposed.
It is incumbent on the UN Security Council to hold perpetrators of these crimes to account and make clear to the world that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA