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Chemical weapon attacks in Syria persist a year after Khan Sheikhoun Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Chemical weapon attacks in Syria persist a year after Khan Sheikhoun

Over 80 people were killed when regime planes dropped sarin gas on Khan Sheikhoun. [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 April, 2018

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At least 80 people were killed on April 4 last year when regime war planes dropped sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria.
International efforts to prevent chemical attacks in Syria in the year since a deadly sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun have failed, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

At least 80 people were killed on April 4 last year when regime war planes dropped sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria.

The chemical assault on the rebel-held town was one of the most shocking of Syria's seven-year war, causing global outrage and rare retaliatory airstrikes by the US.

The deadly sarin attack was the largest chemical weapon assault in Syria since the regime acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.

All likely evidence pointed to Syrian regime responsibility for the attack, according to an investigation by HRW, with the Joint Investigative Mechanism confirming in October 2017 that the regime was responsible.

"In Syria, the government is using chemical weapons that are banned the world over without paying any price," Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said.

"One year after the horrific sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, neither the UN Security Council nor the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has acted to uphold the prohibition against chemical weapon attacks." 

One year after the horrific sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, neither the UN Security Council nor the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has acted to uphold the prohibition against chemical weapon attacks

HRW analysed evidence of chemical weapons attacks in Syria between August 21, 2013 and February 25, 2018, when the regime used chlorine in the besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave.

The information, based on data from seven sources, showed that the Syrian regime was responsible for the majority of the 85 confirmed chemical weapon attacks in the country's war.

The Syrian regime has been undeterred by the efforts of the United Nations Security Council, the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and unilateral action by individual countries to enforce the prohibition on Syria's use of chemical weapons, the HRW report said.

The human rights group called for Security Council sanctions on Syrian officials involved in the Khan Sheikhoun attack.

UN, OPCW 'silent' on chemical attacks

In November last year, Russia vetoed a UNSC resolution to renew the Joint Investigative Mechanism's mandate, ending its operations.

Since it ceased to operate, the Syrian regime has likely carried out at least five more chemical weapon attacks, HRW said.

The Syrian regime was responsible for the majority of the 85 confirmed chemical weapon attacks in the country's war

As a result, those responsible for the attacks have not been held accountable.

The OPCW announced in June 2014 that it had shipped Syria's declared chemical weapons out of the country for destruction, although it continued attempting to verify the accuracy of the Syrian regime's declaration.

Since then, the regime has conducted coordinated chemical weapons attacks in its campaign to retake opposition-held areas, including in Aleppo in 2016 and in Ghouta in January and February of 2018.

Russia has used its veto at the Security Council to prevent holding the Syrian regime accountable for these violations, including a resolution that would have referred the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court on May 22, 2014.

Despite the confirmed use of sarin gas by the Syrian regime, the OPCW has not taken any collective measures, HRW said.

The rights group said the OPCW should suspend and sanction the Syrian regime for its failure to comply with executing the international Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons.

If such measures fail, individual member countries need to hold the regime accountable and reinstate a system to identify responsibility for chemical attacks.

"Despite the incentives to act, the UN Security Council and OPCW are silently watching on as Syria transforms the nightmare of chemical warfare into reality," HRW's Lama Fakih said.

"It is high time to do right by the victims of the attack and the international standard set in the chemical weapons treaty."

 

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