Crimes

Chemical weapons use against civilians


Each State Party undertakes to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

November 30, 2018


Chemical weapons use against civilians

Pro-Justice: The Judicial Committee


In its assault on the citizens of Syria, the government of Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly carried out crimes in direct contravention of Article 8, paragraph 2, (b) (xvii) and (xviii) of the Rome Statute, as outlined below:


“(xvii): Employing poison or poisoned weapons,” and “(xviii): “Employing asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices.”


The Syrian government has also violated UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) which determined that “the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” underscoring that “Member States are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and carry out the Council’s decisions.”

In particular, the resolution condemned in the strongest terms the attack on 21 August 2013, in violation of international law. In Article 15, the resolution expressed its “strong conviction that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic should be held accountable.” Article 21 of the resolution, decided, “in the event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

In its report issued on 16 September 2013, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria described the chemical attack on the Ghouta area as a grave violation, stating that the attack was conducted with surface-to-surface rockets launched between 02:00 a.m. and 05:00 a.m. local time. The report explained that the timing and weather conditions maximized the potential number of victims, given that the chemical payload did not make noise and did not cause further damage to the surrounding area after the initial impact of the rocket. In response to the attack, the UN Security Council condemned the intensive and systematic use of poisonous gases in Syria. Article 15 of Resolution 2235 (2015) reaffirmed “its decision in response to violations of resolution 2118 to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.”

Although all these resolutions have explicitly and clearly condemned the Syrian government for using banned weapons, including chemical weapons and chlorine gas, the Assad regime continued to use chemical weapons more than 300 times against an approximate 166 civilian targets in various cities, towns, villages and neighborhoods in different provinces. These attacks left more than 2,000 civilians dead, as documented in investigative reports; the most detailed of which were prepared by the Syrian Network for Human Rights and the Legal Clinics located inside Syria.

These two rights groups, along with the Civil Defense, documented around 37 incidents where civilians in Syria were targeted with chemical weapons before the issuance of Resolution 2118 (2013):

  • 23 December 2012: The first chemical attack took place in the areas of Bayyadha and Deir Baalba in Homs, killing six people and causing about 60 cases of asphyxiation, 10 of which were critical (four people were paralyzed and three lost vision).
  • 25 December 2012: A chemical attack took place in the area of Zaafaraneh in the northern countryside of Homs, causing 35 cases of asphyxiation.

Over the course of 2013, Syrian security forces carried out 35 chemical attacks against civilian targets:

  • January: One chemical attack on the Al-Bayadah district in the city of Homs killed seven people and resulted in another 37 cases of asphyxiation.
  • March: Five chemical attacks targeted the Damascus Countryside (4) and Aleppo (1), the most serious attack took place in the area of Khan al-Assal, near the city of Aleppo, killing 22 people.
  • April: Seven chemical attacks across the city of Damascus (2), the Damascus Countryside (2), Aleppo (2), Idleb (1), killed 17 people, including two children, and caused 96 cases of asphyxiation.
  • May: 12 chemical attacks across the Damascus Countryside (11) and the city of Damascus (1) killed 48 people and caused 788 cases of asphyxiation.
  • June: Five chemical attacks across the Damascus Countryside (3) and the city of Damascus (2) killed 11 people and caused 94 cases of asphyxiation.
  • July: Three chemical attacks across Homs (1), the city of Damascus (1), and the Damascus Countryside (1) killed eight people and cased 33 cases of asphyxiation.
  • August: Two chemical attacks killed more than 1,500 people, most of whom were children, and caused thousands of cases of asphyxiation.

After the heinous chemical attack on the Ghouta area on 21 August 2013, the Syrian government was forced to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September 2013. Paragraph 1 of Article 1 of the convention states that each state party undertakes never under any circumstances:

  1. To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;
  2. To use chemical weapons;
  3. To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;

Paragraph 2 also states that:

Each State Party undertakes to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

Despite these binding UN resolutions and conventions, the Syrian government has not been deterred in its continued use of chemical and other internationally banned poisonous weapons. Syrian security forces actually intensified their use of such weapons throughout the period between September 2013–April 2018. Below is a detailed list of attacks which the Syrian government conducted with banned weapons over that period:

  • September: One chemical attack on the Jobar district in Damascus using sulfur mustard (gas) caused nine cases of asphyxiation.
  • October: Five chemical attacks in the Damascus Countryside (3) and the city of Damascus (2) caused hundreds of cases of asphyxiation.

Over the course of 2014, Syrian security forces conducted 84 attacks with chemical weapons against civilians. All these attacks were documented by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Legal Clinics and the Civil Defense. The following is a summary of the information obtained from these bodies:

  • January: One chemical attack in the city of Darayya in the Damascus Countryside killed four people and injured 14.
  • February: One chemical attack in the town of Misraba in the Damascus Countryside caused 12 cases of asphyxiation.
  • March: Five chemical attacks across the Damascus Countryside (2), the city of Damascus (2), and Deir ez-Zor (1) killed 10 people and caused 114 cases of asphyxiation.
  • April: 17 chemical attacks across Hama (6), Idleb (5), the Damascus Countryside (3), the city of Damascus (2), and Aleppo (1) killed 37 people and caused 430 cases of asphyxiation.
  • May: Seven chemical attacks across Hama (4) and Idleb (3) killed two people, one of whom was a child, and caused 102 cases of asphyxiation
  • June: Five chemical attacks across Idleb (2), the Damascus Countryside (1), Daraa (1), and Hama (1) caused 78 cases of asphyxiation.
  • July: Three chemical attacks across rural Hama (2) and Aleppo (1) killed two people and caused 125 cases of asphyxiation.
  • August: Eight chemical attacks across rural Hama (3), the city of Damascus (2), the Damascus Countryside (2), and Daraa (1) killed six people and caused 218 cases of asphyxiation.
  • September: 18 chemical attacks across the Damascus Countryside (13), rural Hama (4), the city of Damascus (1) killed 16 people and caused 140 cases of asphyxiation.
  • October: Seven chemical attacks across rural Hama (2), Aleppo (2), the Damascus Countryside (2), and Daraa (1) killed two people and caused 74 cases of asphyxiation and napalm burns.
  • November: One chemical attack in the Jobar district of Damascus caused 20 cases of asphyxiation.
  • December: 10 chemical attacks across Homs (2), the Damascus Countryside (2), the city of Damascus (2), Aleppo (2), Hama (1), and Deir ez-Zor (1) killed two people and caused 152 cases of asphyxiation.

Over the course of 2015, Syrian security forces conducted 73 chemical weapons attacks against civilians. All attacks were documented by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Legal Clinics, the Syrian Lawyers Commission, and the Civil Defense. The following is a summary of the information obtained from these bodies:

  • January: Two chemical attacks targeting the districts of Sheikh Miskeen and Ibtaa in rural Daraa caused 32 cases of asphyxiation.
  • February: One chemical attack in the Zabadani area in the Damascus Countryside caused 11 cases of asphyxiation.
  • March: 10 chemical attacks across Damascus (3), Aleppo (2), and Idleb (5) killed 12 people and caused 191 cases of asphyxiation.
  • April: 14 chemical attacks across Idleb (7), rural Hama (4), the Damascus Countryside (2), and in rural Daraa (1) caused 224 cases of asphyxiation.
  • May: 21 chemical attacks across rural Idleb (16), Homs (2), and the Damascus Countryside (1) killed three people including one child and caused 285 cases of asphyxiation.
  • June: 14 chemical attacks across Idleb (8) and the Damascus Countryside (5) killed two people and caused 157 cases of asphyxiation.
  • July: Three chemical attacks across Deir ez-Zor (1), Aleppo (1), and the city of Damascus (1) killed five people and caused 59 cases of asphyxiation.
  • August: Five chemical attacks across the Damascus Countryside (3), Homs (1), and the city of Damascus (1) killed seven people and caused 54 cases of asphyxiation.
  • September: One chemical attack in Harasta in the Damascus Countryside caused eight cases of asphyxiation.
  • October: Two chemical attacks across the city of Damascus (1) and Homs (1) killed three people and caused 36 cases of asphyxiation.
  • December: One chemical attack in the Damascus Countryside killed five people and caused 15 cases of asphyxiation.

Over the course of 2016, Syrian security forces conducted 119 chemical weapons attacks against civilians. All attacks were documented by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Legal Clinics, the Syrian Lawyers Commission, and the Civil Defense. The following is a summary of the information obtained from these bodies:

  • January: One chemical attack in Madhaya in the Damascus Countryside caused dozens of cases of asphyxiation.
  • February: One chemical attack in the city of Erbeen in the Damascus Countryside caused two cases of asphyxiation.
  • April: Nine chemical attacks across Aleppo (3), Deir ez-Zor (2), Lattakia (2), and Idleb (2) caused more than 100 cases of asphyxiation.
  • May: Three chemical attacks across rural Hama (2) and rural Idleb (1) killed 10 people and injured 50.
  • June: 40 chemical attacks across Aleppo and its countryside (35), Idleb (4), and Homs (1) killed more than 75 people and caused more than 1,200 cases of asphyxiation and dozens of cases involving burns.
  • July: Three chemical attacks across Aleppo and its countryside injured 37 people.
  • August: 16 chemical attacks across Aleppo and its Countryside (6), the Damascus Countryside (5), Homs (2), Idleb (2), and Lattakia (1) killed four people, including one child, and caused 247 cases of asphyxiation.
  • September: 11 chemical attacks across rural Homs (6), Aleppo (3), the city of Damascus (1), and Hama (1) killed nine people and injured 230.
  • October: 16 chemical attacks across rural Hama (7), Aleppo (3), Idleb (3), Damascus and its countryside (2), and rural Homs (1) killed seven people, including one woman, and caused 256 injuries and cases of asphyxiation.
  • November: Seven chemical attacks in Aleppo killed 16 people and injured 103.
  • December: 12 chemical attacks across Aleppo (7), Homs (2), and Damascus (3) killed 12 people, including one woman, and caused 252 cases of asphyxiation.

Over the course of 2017, Syrian security forces conducted 14 chemical weapons attacks against civilians. All these attacks were documented by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Legal Clinics, the Syrian Lawyers Commission, and the Civil Defense. The following is a summary of the information obtained from these bodies:

  • 1 January–4 April: More than nine chemical attacks across Idleb, Hama, Damascus and its countryside killed more than 100 people including 32 children and 23 women, and caused more than 700 injuries. The most heinous of these attacks was carried out on the city of Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April, killing 91 people, including 32 children and 23 women, and caused 520 cases of asphyxiation and fainting.
  • 7 April: Two attacks on eastern Qaboun in the city of Damascus with grenades carrying poisonous gas injured two people.
  • June: One chemical attack in the district of Jobar in the Damascus countryside caused six cases of asphyxiation.
  • July: Three chemical attacks in the Damascus Countryside caused 21 cases of asphyxiation, nausea, and sever respiratory issues.

Over the course of 2018, Syrian security forces conducted four chemical weapons attacks against civilians. All these attacks were documented by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Legal Clinics, the Syrian Lawyers Commission, and the Civil Defense. The following is a summary of the information obtained from these bodies:

  • February: One chemical attack in the town of Saraqeb in rural Idleb caused 11 cases of asphyxiation.
  • March: One chemical attack in the town of Hammouryeh in the Damascus Countryside caused 25 cases of asphyxiation and nausea.
  • April: Two chemical attacks against the city of Douma in the Damascus Countryside killed 55 people and causing 875 cases of asphyxiation and sever nausea.

These above attacks are defined as crimes of mass killing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute. Their prosecution is not subject to a statute of limitations. These acts were aimed at eliminating and devastating large segments of the Syrian population, and will likely leave a permanent, painful impact in the hearts of survivors. Syrian President Bashar Assad, as the senior-most official responsible for these attacks, must be held accountable along with other high-ranking officials in Syria’s security services for the violation of international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions 2118 (2013), 2209 (2015), and 2235 (2015), in addition to the repetitive and continual violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.