Two and a half years into the Syrian civil war, the Syrian government attacked its own people with chemical weapons. On August 21st, 2013, rockets delivering deadly Sarin gas landed in Ghouta, a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus. It is not clear how many people died. Estimates vary from just under 300 people to over 1700. But what is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt is that this atrocity was perpetrated by order of the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
There is evidence that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against its own people prior to the Ghouta attack, as well as after August 2013. Thus, to hold the responsible parties accountable for these murders, in August 2015, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 2235. It established the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, in order to assign responsibility for these attacks.
On October 26th, this independent, international body reported that it “is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin [gas] in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017.” Such use would constitute a clear violation of international law, including the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The JIM also found that the terrorist group ISIS perpetrated a sulfur mustard attack on the town of Um Housh on two consecutive days in September 2016.
In a November 8th joint statement, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, condemned both attacks. They demanded that the Syrian regime immediately cease all use of chemical weapons, and that the Assad Regime finally declare to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons all chemical weapons that it possesses.
“A robust international response is now essential to hold those responsible to account, seek justice for the victims of these abhorrent attacks and to prevent such attacks from happening again,” the statement continues. “After such a report, the Security Council and all its members have a common responsibility to protect the international non-proliferation regime and live up to their previous commitments.”