Although a Decade Has Passed Since the Largest Chemical Weapon Attack in the Modern Age, the Criminal Regime is Still Protected by its Impunity
The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights today released a statement marking the 10th anniversary of the Syrian regime’s largest chemical attack that targeted Two Ghoutas, in which the group stressed that although a decade has passed since the largest chemical weapon attack in the modern age, the criminal regime is still protected by its impunity.
The statement first summarizes the events of August 21, 2013, noting that the details of the chemical attack on the two Ghoutas demonstrate that the Syrian regime had a premeditated and deliberate objective of killing as many residents as possible, including women and children, with the calculated aim of silently, fatally gassing them in their sleep, thereby minimizing any chance of survival. The statement adds that the weather in the region had been forecast to be relatively cool and calm between 02:00 and 05:00 that night, meaning those responsible knew that the air would be still and the heavy poison gas would naturally drift downwards and settle at ground level rather than blowing away.
As the statement further notes, the 1,144 individuals killed in that night’s attack were asphyxiated by the chemical weapons used. Of those, 1,119 civilians, including 99 children and 194 women (adult female), while the remaining 25 were armed opposition fighters. Additionally, 5,935 survivors suffered severe respiratory problems and suffocation. The statement additionally observes that the death toll from the Two Ghoutas attack accounts for 76 percent of all the victims killed in the chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Syrian regime between December 2012 and the last known chemical weapons attack documented on SNHR’s database, which took place in May 2019 in al-Kbeina in rural Latakia.
The statement further notes that, as SNHR’s database attests, a total of 222 chemical weapons attacks have been documented in Syria since the first documented use of chemical weapons on December 23, 2012, up until August 20, 2023. Approximately 98 percent of all these attacks have been carried out by Syrian regime forces, while approximately two percent were by ISIS. The statement ads that the 217 chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Syrian regime resulted in the deaths of 1,514 individuals, divided into 1,413 civilians, including 214 children and 262 women (adult female), 94 armed opposition fighters, and seven Syrian regime troops who were being held in armed opposition prisons. The chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Syrian regime also injured 11,080 individuals, including five regime troops where being held in armed opposition prisons.
Meanwhile, ISIS carried out five chemical weapons attacks between April 9, 2013, when the group first emerged in Syria, and August 20, 2023, all of which took place in Aleppo governorate. A total of 132 individuals were injured in the chemical weapons attacks carried out by ISIS.
The statement also divides the 222 chemical weapons attacks according to the UN Security Council resolutions that addressed the use of chemical weapons – the Syrian regime carried out 33 attacks before Security Council resolution 2118 and 184 after, while 115 chemical weapons attacks were carried out after Security Council resolution 2209. Furthermore, the Syrian regime caried out 59 attacks after the establishment of the Joint OPCW-UN Investigative Mechanism (JIM) and Security Council resolutions 2235. The five attacks carried out by ISIS, the statement adds, all violated Security Council resolutions 2118, 2209, and 2235.
The statement holds the head of the Syrian regime and Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Army Bashar Assad responsible for moving and using chemical weapons. The statement stresses that far less momentous actions don’t take place without his full knowledge and approval due to the Syrian regime‘s highly centralized operational structure. Using chemical weapons, the statement adds, is a calculated policy for the Syrian regime based on a central, executive decision, in which the institutions of the military and intelligence are incriminated, in particular the leaderships of the General Military Intelligence Directorate, Air Force Intelligence Directorate, the National Security Bureau, and the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (especially Institute 1000 and Branch 450). SNHR’s data shows that no fewer than 387 individuals, who are high-ranking military officers, security officials, and civilian and military personnel, were involved in this attack. All of these individuals have rightfully earned their place on the US and EU sanction lists.
The statement calls on the UN Security Council and the UN to impose economic, political, and military sanctions on the Syrian regime under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, which would serve as a symbolic compensation for the families of the victims. The statement also calls on the UN Security Council and the UN to prosecute the individuals responsible whose names and details we have published, and to investigate the extent of their involvement in the use of chemical weapons and add them to the lists of sanctioned figures and terror sponsors.
The statement also stresses that the Syrian case must be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and that all those involved must be held accountable. An alternative option would be to establish a special tribunal to try those involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian people, to help put an end to the shameful impunity that has now been going on for over a decade.