Syria: To Save Civilian Lives, International Community Must Compel Syrian Government to Cooperate with OPCW Investigation Team

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

With reports by Syrian rights organizations of yet another chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces, it is imperative that the UN Security Council and the international community take urgent action to protect Syrian civilians. The credibility of these reports is bolstered by the Syrian government’s refusal to allow the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to enter Syria to investigate and identify the perpetrators of the alleged chemical attack.

Syrian government forces are accused of using chemical weapons during an attack on the Kbaina village in the Latakia governorate on May 19, 2019, marking the first chemical attack to occur since the powers of OPCW were expanded through the decision to create the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) last year. The undersigned human rights organizations underscore that the Syrian government’s denial of entry to OPCW, which coincides with the emergence of these reports, constitutes strong evidence of its use of chemical weapons.

The Syrian government’s refusal of access to OPCW’s investigation team is the latest in a history of obstructionism that corresponds with its history of using chemical weapons in gross violation of international law and its international obligations, including the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) it ratified on September 14, 2013. The Syrian government was compelled to ratify the convention after using chemical weapons on civilians in the Ghouta area of Damascus on August 21, 2013; yet it failed to deliver all its chemical stockpile and has used chemical weapons many times since, as proven by the  Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic established by the Human Rights Council through resolution number S-17/1, as well as the Joint Investigative Mechanism established by the  Security Council through resolution 2235.

To prevent accountability for these attacks, the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad engages in several commonly-deployed obstructionist tactics, such as habitually and deliberately stalling visas to OPCW teams, delaying responses to OPCW’s messages, and obstructing inspectors’ access to a number of areas, according to an investigation conducted by Reuters in August 2017; and now, refusing entry to Syria entirely.

In addition to breaching the abovementioned Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the use of toxic gases and the destruction of any such materials, the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons violates customary international humanitarian law, under which chemical weapons are banned in all circumstances.  Furthermore, it breaches all relevant Security Council resolutions, in particular resolutions 2118 of 2013, 2209 of 2015, and 2235 of 2015. The use of chemical weapons also constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The signatory organizations call on the UN Security Council to convene an emergency session and act quickly to issue a resolution obliging the Syrian government -through the threat of sanctions – to allow entry to the Investigation and Identification Team of  OPCW and to ensure free, unobstructed movement and travel to its representatives within the country.

The undersigned call on the international community to take urgent action to protect Syrian civilians from chemical weapons and barrel bombs, after eight years of gross human rights violations and war crimes committed predominantly by the government of Bashar al-Assad against the Syrian people.

Signatory Organizations:

  1. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
  2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  3. Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research
  4. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
  5. Biladi Foundation for Human Rights – Libya
  6. Committee for Respect Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia
  7. Democratic transition and human rights support center (DAAM)
  8. Sudanese Monitor for Human Rights
  9. Libyan Center for Freedom of Press

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