After the massacre committed by the Syrian regime on 21/8/2014, the international community found difficulty in ignoring the crime, as it had done with all previous crimes. This massacre was the largest committed in terms of the number of victims. In addition to this, it took place at the same time as the International team for Chemical Weapons Inspection were present in Damascus, only a couple of kilometres away from the scene of crime. Perhaps more importantly, it was a massacre in which chemical weapons were used, about which the American President had previously said that their use would be a red line!
However, the angry voices which condemned the crime and promised of punishment for the Syrian regime immediately died down after an American-Russian agreement swapped the punishment of the perpetrators with the removal of the weapons themselves. The perpetrator was ignored, and the rest of the weapons remained with him!
This agreement may constitute a precedent unknown of in previous dealings with war crimes in the world! Despite the fact that the international community does ignore crimes against humanity and war crimes, an international agreement has never taken place in which a crime is dealt with without the criminal, or without any steps taken which will investigate the criminal and condemn him!
The following paragraphs reveal the most prominent stations in the international community’s response of the use of chemical weapons in the Eastern Ghouta, and how the shift changed from talking about the crime and its actors, to focussing on the weapon which was used.
On 29/8/2013, the Security Council met to agree on a decree which would condemn the crime. They failed to reach a shared agreement.
On the same day, the British parliament rejected a draft resolution from the British government to participate in a possible American strike on Syria. This move affected the plans of the American president, who announced on 31/8/2013 that he will ask congressional approval on the possibility of an airstrike.
On 9/9/2013, it was announced that a Russian-American agreement had been made in order to get rid of the chemical weapon arsenal in Syria, as an alternative to a possible western airstrike. The agreement was widely accepted internationally.
On 20/9/2013, the organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received a list from Damascus including an inventory of their weapons. The experts of the organisation then began to take practical steps towards destroying the Syrian chemical arsenal.
And on 27/9/2013, the Security Council resolution 2118 was issued- the first resolution regarding Syria which all agreed to. The resolution however did not mention the perpetrator of the crimes of al-Ghouta, and simply settled with condemnation in a passive manner.
On 3/10/2013, chemical weapons experts began to verify the list of sites given to them by Damascus and conduct field tests- the first stage in their mission before getting rid of the chemical arsenal.
On 11/10/2013, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, in what was considered to be a move to amplify the role played by the organisation in dismantling the Syrian chemical arsenal and contributing to world peace. This is despite the fact that the organisation did not pay any attention to the other weapons in the hands of the Syrian regime including non-prohibited toxic gases which the regime has continued to use (the most recent use was yesterday 20/8/2014), in addition to the fact that the organisation did not hold the perpetrator to account or punish him!
And on 31/10/2013, the United Nations delegation to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Eastern Ghouta released a report confirming the use of Sarin gas released via surface missiles, making clear that the perpetrators intended to kill the largest number of victims possible. However, it classed the crime as “unknown”, and did not investigate into who perpetrated it, based on the decision of the assignment given to the delegation.
On 14/10/2013, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992, and which it signed to on 14/9/2014.
And on 11/2/2014, Washington said that limited amounts of the chemical weapon arsenal had left the port in Latakkia, and that these quantities were far below the 700 tons which the regime was supposed to have disposed of by the end of 2013.
By 19/8/2014, the Pentagon announced that all chemical weapons which the Syrian regime had handed over had been destroyed- 50 days later than had been agreed
Shortly afterwards, the American president announced, “”Today we mark an important achievement in our ongoing effort to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction by eliminating Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile.” He described this step as a “great achievement” that comes as part of the international effort to destroy the chemical weapons of the Assad regime.
He also said that the team aboard the “MV Cape Ray” in the Mediterranean, which was working on destroying the chemical weapons, completed their task before the set deadline. Obama clarified that destroying the weapons advances the goal of ensuring that Assad cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people. He said it also “sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community.”
The use of Poisonous Gases has not ended!
Despite the efforts of the international community to save face by withdrawing Syria’s chemical weapons covered by the treaty for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Syrian regime has not stopped using other poisonous gases not included in the treaty.
The Convention stipulates “the prohibition, development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and the destruction of these weapons” due to the chemicals in the weapons being toxic, with the exception of the use of chemicals for other purposes not prohibited in the convention as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes.
Chlorine is considered among the chemicals not prohibited in principle as it is used in many industrial processes. In addition, chlorine gas was not included in the agreement with the Syrian regime to deliver its chemical weapons.
Since the Ghouta massacre and till yesterday evening (20/8/2014), Syrian regime warplanes have dropped poisonous gases at least more than 40 times according to the documentation of SHRC. Other estimations have documented the attacks to be in excess of 100.
April 2014 witnessed the highest number of chlorine gas attacks since the beginning of the Syrian regime’s targeting of civilians in March 2011. SHRC documented 10 attacks in April alone.
The intense chlorine gas attacks in April called for international reaction, however, international reactions did not go beyond the demands to open an investigation or confirm the use of gas. Even then, no results were declared of these investigations.