The Syrian Regime’s Chemical Attacks on Khan Sheikhoun and Douma Remain with No Accountability for Five Years

Russia Is Practicing the Same Tactics in Ukraine Which It Has Practiced in Syria Concerning Chemical Weapons

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Press release:
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) released a report today marking the fifth anniversary of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun city in April 2017, and the fourth anniversary of its chemical weapons attack on Douma city in April 2018, entilted ‘The Syrian Regime’s Chemical Attacks on Khan Sheikhoun and Douma Remain with No Accountability for Five Years,” in which SNHR points out that Russia is practicing the same tactics in Ukraine which it has practiced in Syria concerning Chemical Weapons.

The nine-page report notes that five and four years respectively since the chemical attacks on Khan Sheikhoun and Douma, Syrians are still witnessing more entrenchment of the current, wholly unacceptable culture of impunity. The report recalls the death tolls for the two attacks, with the SNHR team documenting the deaths by suffocation of 91 civilians, including 32 children and 23 women (adult female), and the injury of about 520 individuals, when the regime used chemical weapons against Khan Sheikhoun city in Idlib governorate on April 4, 2017, and subsequently documenting the deaths of 39 civilians, including 10 children and 15 women (adult female), and the injury of about 550 individuals, when the regime used chemical weapons against Douma city in Damascus Suburbs governorate the next year, on April 7, 2018.

As the report reveals, Russia backed the Syrian regime’s use of weapons of mass destruction, and the repeated use of chemical weapons in hundreds of attacks and enabled the regime to enjoy impunity for 11 years, due to all these crimes taking place under complete Russian protection and sponsorship; Russia is directly involved in the Syrian regime’s concealment of large quantities of chemical weapons on the grounds that it is a party to the Russian-US agreement in September 2013, as well as a guarantor of the Syrian regime’s destruction of all its chemical weapons. The report further notes that Russia is a partner in contributing to the chemical attack in Saraqeb on February 4, 2018, providing direct military support to the Syrian regime in at least three chemical attacks.

The report adds that Russia is a party to the conflict in Syria and is involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity, noting that Russia’s use of its veto in the Security Council paves the way for it to continue its crimes, recalling Russia’s use of the veto six times in the Security Council against draft resolutions related to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The report stresses that the use of its veto was deliberate, with Russia using three vetoes to terminate the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) at the end of 2017 after the JIM confirmed the Syrian regime’s responsibility for the chemical attacks in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017. Russia also vetoed a draft resolution calling for an investigation into those who used chemical weapons in Douma in April 2018.

As the report further notes, Russian forces have increased the intensity of their brutal attacks in Ukrain since their invasion of the country on February 24, 2022, to a level close to that of their attacks in Syria, adding that Russia uses the same tactic in Ukraine and Syria and there are international concerns over the possibility of Russia using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine.

The report also notes that SNHR has documented a total of 222 chemical attacks on Syria since the first attack using chemical weapons documented on SNHR’s database on December 23, 2012, up until April 7, 2022, with 217 of these attacks – approximately 98% – carried out at the hands of Syrian regime forces, and the five other attacks – approximately 2% – at the hands of ISIS.
As the report further reveals, the Syrian regime’s attacks caused the deaths of 1,510 individuals, categorized as 1,409 civilians, including 205 children and 260 women (adult female), 94 Armed Opposition fighters, and seven Syrian regime prisoners of war who were being held in Armed Opposition prisons.
These chemical attacks also injured 11,080 individuals, including five Syrian regime prisoners of war who were being held in Armed Opposition prisons.
ISIS, meanwhile, carried out five chemical attacks since its establishment on April 9, 2013, which resulted in the injury of 132 individuals.

The report assigns direct responsibility for the movement and use of chemical weapons to the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al Assad, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Armed Forces, affirming that it is not even possible to carry out actions far smaller than this without his knowledge and approval, let alone such a major operation. The report notes that International Humanitarian Law takes into account the hierarchical nature of the armed forces and the discipline imposed by leaders and holds commanders criminally responsible at the personal level, not only for the actions and breaches they have personally committed but also for the actions committed by their subordinates. The report adds that the relation of the head of the regime and its leaders and the very strict and centralized chain of command all mean that the head of the Syrian regime Bashar al Assad and his senior leadership officials are all directly involved, through the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction, in committing violations that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Syrian people. With regard to the use of chemical weapons, the report reveals that the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Armed Forces, his deputy, the Director of the Air Force, the Air Intelligence Department, the commanders of military airbases, and the squadron directors and brigades of the Republican Guard, in addition to the directors of scientific research units bear the greatest responsibility for the use of this weapon. The report notes that the SNHR’s database includes data on at least 387 prominent army and security officers, civil and military personnel in research and scientific studies centers that specialize in providing and supplying chemicals used militarily in Syria, who are accused of ordering or carrying out chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The report stresses that it had been assumed that, after the United Nations and the OPCW’s accurate and highly credible investigations, the UN Security Council would move to take all forms of active measures, including the imposition of economic, political, and military sanctions, against the Syrian regime, which has violated all the relevant Security Council resolutions – Resolution No. 2118, Resolution No. 2209, and Resolution No. 2235. The report notes that, despite this reasonable assumption, this has not happened to date, even after the passage of five and four full years respectively since the two attacks, with the families and friends of the civilians who were killed and injured still waiting for justice and accountability for the perpetrators.
In addition, the report emphasizes, the international community must prevent the recurrence of its mistakes that allowed unspeakable evil to be perpetrated against civilians in Syria, in order to prevent the repetition of such horrors in Ukraine, and must correct the catastrophic mistakes that occurred in the chemical weapons file in Syria, starting with the promises of the ‘red line,’ and also including remedying the lack of any accountability for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally.

Download the full report