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NGOs urge France to investigate chemical weapons use in Syria

March 2, 2021 at 3:26 pm

Men, members of Syrian civil defense organization, White Helmets let a white pigeon to fly for people who lost his life in chemical attack that in the Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus, Syria on 22 August, 2017 [Amer Almohibany/Anadolu Agency]

Human rights organisations have filed a complaint in a court in Paris today against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. They accuse him of being responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity through the use of chemical weapons.

The three NGOs — the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and Syrian Archive — filed the complaint urging France to launch an investigation into the chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian towns of Douma and Eastern Ghouta in August 2013.

According to a joint statement issued by the trio, “The complaint points to the Syrian government’s alleged responsibility in carrying out the attacks, which killed more than a thousand people, including many children. These attacks constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The evidence for the complaint and potential investigation consists of “first-hand testimonies from numerous victims,” as well as recorded visual imagery and footage and the “thorough analysis of the Syrian military chain of command” responsible for the attacks.

“Holding the perpetrators to these crimes in Syria accountable would not only provide a measure of justice owed to their victims, but also ensure greater global peace and security,” explained the president of SCM, Mazen Darwish. He added that its importance to the international community means that “countries must cooperate to create a special international court to try these crimes.”

READ: 7 years after the chemical attack in Syria, Assad has not been held to account

Back in October last year, the same three NGOs also filed a similar complaint in Germany in efforts to prompt an investigation into the sarin attacks in Eastern Ghouta and Khan Shaykhun in 2013 and 2017. The organisations further urged French and German authorities to come together and pool their resources to conduct the investigation.

The filing of the complaint and the call for a special international criminal court to try foreign human rights offenders comes shortly after a German court convicted a former operative of the Assad regime’s secret police who was responsible for the torture and death of protestors and detainees.

It was the world’s first such case to take place outside of the country where the crimes against humanity were committed, due to Germany’s universal jurisdiction laws which enabled it to investigate such crimes under international law. It also set a precedent under which many Syrian refugees and human rights organisations hope to see further trials and convictions of Syrian regime members.

France has long condemned the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons throughout the ongoing civil war, and threatened in 2018 to strike the regime if it uses them again.

READ: One chemical weapons report should not whitewash a decade of Assad’s crimes