Justice Will Not Be Achieved without Holding the Head of the Syrian Regime Army Command Accountable for the Killing of Nearly 1,500 Syrian Citizens and Injuring 12,000 Others
(Link below to download full report)
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) issued a report to mark the Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare, which falls on November 30 each year, adopted by the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention during its 20th session in 2015.
The eight-page report notes that although this day represents an opportunity to renew the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) commitment to eliminating the threat of using this type of munitions, and to promote the objectives of peace, safety, and pluralism, the reality of the Syrian regime’s dealings with the organization, the regime’s inadequate compliance with the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the number of massive falsehoods in the regime’s announcement of the destruction of its chemical arsenal, all point to a shameful and bleak picture in the course of ensuring the disposal of these munitions. These failures raise questions among Syrians in particular about the OPCW’s ability to achieve its goal of creating a world permanently free of chemical weapons.
The report also stresses that this year’s Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare comes while the Syrian regime continues to refuse to admit its deliberate deception of the OPCW, as its specialist institutions have continued producing chemical munitions, and while the regime has continued developing its chemical weapons program even after it acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013; this has been seen in practice through the regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons on dozens of occasions.
As the report reveals, the 90-day deadline granted by the OPCW’s Executive Council to the Syrian regime following the report published by the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) in April 2020, in which it accused the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons in al Latamena city on three occasions, provided an additional opportunity for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to cast doubt on the credibility of the report and insult all the OPCW’s member states. The report notes that the reactions of various countries worldwide after the report was issued are shameful and further confirm to the surviving victims of chemical weapons in Syria that they are without any support.
The report outlines the points noted by the Secretary-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in his report issued on October 14, 2020, in which he confirmed that the Syrian regime did not meet the 90-day deadline and has not declared any of the facilities where the chemical weapons used in al Latamena attacks were developed, with the report also noting that the regime hasn’t declared any of the chemical weapons it currently possesses, or revealed any information about any of its chemical weapons production facilities; all this means that the Syrian regime has not resolved all or any of the outstanding issues regarding its initial declaration that it would destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, with the report accordingly being submitted to the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly.
As the SNHR’s report notes, the Security Council session held on November 5, 2020, was deeply disappointing and again reflected the body’s state of paralysis and failure to manage this dangerous issue, with its response limited to an exchange of words between representatives of countries, and with the council divided between those condemning the Syrian regime and those defending it; the session did not provide anything new in terms of putting an end to the Syrian regime’s violations, just as no initiative was taken to impose political, economic and military sanctions on the Syrian regime under Chapter VII.
The report stresses that the comprehensive international failure on this issue, embodied by the sole opposition consisting of mere ineffectual denunciations of the Syrian regime’s confirmed and well-documented use of weapons of mass destruction, has allowed the regime to continue to commit every kind of crime, and to repeatedly violate a convention signed by 193 countries which have significantly adhered to it, with the regime failing even to abide by a request to provide a clear and accurate declaration of its chemical stockpile. The report further notes that the Syrian regime’s policy in deceiving the international community and impeding the work of international organizations is the same policy it has pursued since 2011, especially concerning the issue of chemical weapons, starting with deliberately delaying the granting of visas to the OPCW team and also including delaying its responses to the organization’s messages, and hindering the access of inspectors to some areas, as well as refusing to allow the entry of the OPCW’s investigation team to Syria, as happened in June 2019.
In this context, the report ascribes the primary responsibility for moving and using chemical weapons to the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al Assad, who is at the same time the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Armed Forces. The report stresses that it is impossible even to carry out tasks far smaller than this without his knowledge and approval, noting 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 on 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 points out that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court strengthens these elements of responsibility and extends them to include crimes against humanity committed in peacetime or war, and war crimes, whether committed in an international or internal armed conflict. The law holds military commanders as well as other superiors, including civilians, responsible for this.
The report also notes that international criminal courts require that three elements must be proved before a person may incur superior responsibility for the crimes committed by subordinates, namely the existence of a relationship of superiority and subordination between the accused and the perpetrator of the underlying offence; the knowledge of the superior that his subordinate had committed or was about to commit the crime; and the failure of the superior to prevent the commission of the crime or to punish the perpetrators. The report reveals that all these requirements are fulfilled in the case of the Syrian regime along with the relationship between the head of the regime and its leaders and the strict and centralized chain of command, meaning that the head of the Syrian regime Bashar al Assad and the higher-ranking leaders are all clearly 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.
The report calls on the United Nations and Security Council to impose economic, political, and military sanctions on the Syrian regime, to call on the Syrian regime’s allies to condemn its use of chemical weapons, to work with the rest of the world to hold the Syrian regime accountable, and to pressure it to enter into a political process that leads to a real political transition towards democracy and away from the autocratic and dictatorial rule of one family, which would contribute to lifting sanctions and moving towards democracy and stability.
The report notes that since the UN Security Council has failed for nine years to date to end any of the Syrian regime’s crimes against humanity or to refer them to the International Criminal Court, the United Nations General Assembly should intervene based on Resolution No. 377 of 1950 (the ‘Uniting for Peace’ Resolution), work to refer the case to the International Criminal Court, and hold all those involved in using chemical against Syrian citizens accountable.
The report documents 222 chemical weapons attacks in Syria since the first documented use of CWs was recorded on the SNHR database of chemical weapons on December 23, 2012, up to November 30, 2020, confirming that 217 of these chemical attacks were carried out at the hands of the Syrian regime, while the other five chemical weapons attacks were carried out at the hands of ISIS.
As the report reveals, the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attacks resulted in the deaths of 1,510 individuals, distributed between 1,409 civilians, including 205 children and 260 women (adult female), 94 Armed Opposition fighters, and seven prisoners from Syrian regime forces who were being held in an opposition prison. All these attacks also caused the injury of at least 11,212 individuals, including 11,080 individuals injured in chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Syrian regime, with an additional 132 individuals injured in chemical weapons attacks carried out by ISIS.
The report recommends that the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should swiftly transfer responsibility for action on this matter to the Security Council, and call on it to intervene under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, particularly since a Member State’s use of weapons of mass destruction is assumed to constitute a serious threat to international peace and security, and that it should carry out further work on the issue of holding all Syrian regime individuals involved in the use of chemical weapons accountable, including senior leaders.