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Closer to Accountability for Chemical Weapons

FILE - A woman affected by chemical attack receives treatment inside a makeshift hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama May 22, 2014.

U.N. Security Council adopts resolution establishing joint investigation mechanism regarding the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.

On August 21st, 2013, Syrian government forces committed a heinous atrocity: they attacked the civilian population of the Damascus suburb of Ghouta with sarin gas, a chemical weapon that affects the nervous system. Over 1000 Syrians including hundreds of young children died and thousands more were injured.

The act was immediately and universally condemned and prompted the threat of U.S. military strikes. Consequently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was brought to the negotiating table. The Kerry-Lavrov Framework, along with increased international pressure, induced Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and relinquish its declared stockpiles of chemical weapons. These were then shipped out of Syria and destroyed.

However, nobody was held accountable for the terrible deaths of thousands of Syrians on August 21, 2013. Attacks against Syrian civilians have continued, now using mostly chlorine gas, delivered in barrel bombs dropped out of helicopters.

On August 7th, nearly two years after the Ghouta attack, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2235. It establishes a joint investigation mechanism to identify, in the Syrian Arab Republic, individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical.This mechanism would come into play once the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons fact-finding mission determines that a specific incident in Syria involved, or likely involved, the use of chemicals as weapons. The goal is to create a shared international factual basis for eventual accountability.

“Until we adopted today’s resolution, there was no mechanism to take the obvious next step – determining who is involved in such attacks. Even when there were obvious signs pointing to the parties responsible, investigators were not empowered to point the finger. This has compounded an already-rampant sense of impunity in Syria,” said U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

“To those who think that impunity will last forever for the perpetrators and all others involved in chemical weapons attacks – those who order chemical attacks, those who fill munitions with chemicals, those who drop chemical weapons – look at all of the perpetrators today who find themselves being forced to answer for acts committed years or even decades ago,” she said.

“The evidence gathered by the Joint Investigative Mechanism will stand as a record not just of what has been done, but of who has done it.”