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We Welcome the OPCW Report’s Conclusion that the Syrian Regime Was Responsible for the April 2018 Chemical Attack on Douma City

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SNHR Contributed to the Report by Providing Data and Securing Eyewitnesses

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Yesterday, Friday January 27, 2023, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) issued its third report on chemical weapons attacks in Syria. This latest report investigated the chemical weapons attack on Douma city in Damascus suburbs governorate on April 7, 2018, after the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission in Syria (FFM) had previously established that chemical weapons were used in this location on this date, with the IIT being charged with assigning responsibility for the attack.

The IIT adopted a rigorous methodology in reaching its findings detailed in the report, assessing the data provided by the FFM, State Parties, and other entities, as well as conducting interviews, analyzing samples and munition remains, gas dispersion modeling, conducting trials for dropping cylinders, performing computer simulations, and analyzing satellite imagery, in addition to assembling other evidence such as verified photos and video footage. The team also consulted other experts, as well as examining other relevant material, reviewing over 19,000 files in total, amounting to over 1.86 terabytes, and obtaining statements from 66 witnesses, five of them women, in addition to including other evidence.

Based on the above, the findings of the report are indeed definitive, and make for a strong legal case in the hands of public prosecutors in states with universal jurisdiction. Such a report can also be utilized in any future special tribunal for Syria, inflicting another undoubtedly heavy blow to the Syrian regime and its Russian allies.

The report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that at least one Mi8/17 helicopter, flying from al-Dumayr Airbase, dropped two cylinders on two apartment buildings in an area of Douma city center between 19:10 and 19:40 on April 7, 2018, during a military offensive by Syrian regime forces. The helicopter was controlled by the Russian-backed al-Namer ‘Tiger’ Forces.

We, at the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), have already released two separate reports documenting the details of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack on Douma city. In addition, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic issued a statement condemning the attack on April 13, 2018.

In January 2020, SNHR signed a Principles of Cooperation Agreement with the OPCW’s IIT to share data as a contribution to the team’s present and future investigations in Syria. SNHR is a principal information source for the IIT’s report, thanks to our extensive database on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The IIT’s first report, released on April 8, 2020, concluded that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in three different incidents, in al-Latamena city. We issued a statement addressing the report at the time.

In its second report, released on April 12, 2021, the IIT concluded that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in the attack on Saraqeb city on February 4, 2018. We also issued a statement addressing that report at the time.

In September 2013, the Syrian regime acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which prohibits the use and development of chemical weapons, following increased threats of using military force against the regime over its use of chemical weapons against Eastern and Western Ghouta in Damascus suburbs governorate on August 21, 2013. Accordingly, the Syrian regime became a State Party prohibited under any circumstances from using, developing, or stockpiling chemical weapons. Furthermore, the Syrian regime was required to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. Instead, however, the Syrian regime repeatedly used chemical weapons on 184 different occasions after acceding to the Convention according to SNHR’s database, with these attacks including the attack on Douma city on April 7, 2018.

It is an undisputable fact that the Syrian regime has deliberately and categorically breached multiple articles of the Chemical Weapons Convention. As such, it is the responsibility of the OPCW’s Executive Council to address the Syrian regime’s breaches and to secure clear and explicit condemnations on the the State Parties’ part (even if Russia, China, Venezuela, and other countries that support the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons will not condemn its use, but will instead deny it), as well as to take all the necessary actions to hold the Syrian regime accountable and to refer the case to the Security Council, which should uphold its responsibilities towards the use of weapons of mass destruction in this day and age, which surely threatens international peace and security.

Based on the above, and on the reports by the OPCW’s IIT that conclusively prove the Syrian regime’s culpability in five attacks, and in accordance with Article XII, Paragraph 3, SNHR calls on the OPCW’s Conference of the State Parties (CSP) to recommend in its 28th Session, set to take place in November 2023, that collective measures be taken “in conformity with international law.” Furthermore, the case and all of the relevant related information and conclusions should be referred to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council in accordance with Article XII, Paragraph 4.

The case must be referred urgently to the Security Council, with demands for intervention under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, since the fact that a UN Member State has used weapons of mass destruction clearly poses a serious threat to international peace and security, and the Security Council must implement the relevant resolutions.

The member states of the OPCW, especially those who pride themselves on being civilized nations need to invoke their rights enshrined in Article IX, Paragraph 8 of the CWC to request an on-site challenge inspection on the Syrian territories “for the sole purpose of clarifying and resolving any questions concerning possible non-compliance with the provisions of this Convention” by the Syrian government. Also, we recommend the invocation of rights established in Paragraph 12 (a) of the same article, according to which a representative should be sent to “observe the conduct of the challenge inspection” and to ensure the inspection is carried out with no stalling.

SNHR fully supports the mandate and work of the IIT. We stress that such investigations are an indispensable part of the path towards holding those involved in the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria accountable, prosecuting them, ensuring they do not have impunity, and exposing their lies and crimes. As such, the world’s nations bear the responsibility for punishing them in accordance with Article VIII of the CWC.[1]

SNHR further stresses that it is willing to contribute to any reports by states and international organizations on the human rights situation in Syria. We will spare no effort in reporting the violations and incidents that take place in Syria objectively and credibly towards the goals of protecting civilians in Syria, holding the perpetrators of violations accountable, and beginning the path of change from tyranny to democracy.

Please follow this link to read the report by the IIT.

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