Today marks the second anniversary of the largest massacre in Syria within the last five years, when Zamalka and Ain Tarma in the Eastern Ghouta, and al-Muadamiyyah in the western Ghouta were targeted with missiles loaded with chemical substances, killing 1400 people and leaving hundreds suffering from various levels of suffocation.
This massacre took place at the same time in which the “Committee of Experts for the Disclosure of the use of chemicals” were in Syria, only several kilometres away from the place of crime. However, the committee did not visit the scene of crime as the Syrian regime did not agree to let them into the Ghouta area, saying that the agreement between them was to investigate previous accusations of chemical use in other areas and not this crime.
The UN Security Council later sent a specialised international delegation to investigate into the use of chemical weapons in the eastern Ghouta. The delegation submitted their report to the council on 16/9/2013, affirming in it that chemical weapons had been used on 21/8/2013 against civilians on a widespread scale. However, the committee did not mention which side had used the chemicals, as this part of the investigation had been withdrawn from the committee with international approval.
Based on the report, the Security Council issued decree number 2118 on 27/9/2013, in which it condemned the use of chemical weapons in the eastern Ghouta and called upon the Syrian regime to give in its arsenal of chemical weapons.
Following the stance taken by the international community, the resolution relied on “political understanding”, namely: “The work of removing chemical weapons signed between the United States and the Russian Federation” on 14/9/2013. This stance allowed that the Syrian regime hand over its arsenal of chemical weapons to the international community as an alternative to an investigation into the crime. For this reason, the report did not at all mention the perpetrators of the crime.
On 7/8/2015, and almost two years after the massacre, the security council unanimously voted on resolution 2235 which decreed that a methodology into an investigation into the massacre be found. The decree requested that the UN General Secretary coordinate with the General Secretary of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to put forward recommendations with regards to the methodology. This would then be presented to the Security Council so that it can decide and begin its investigation.
The chemical massacre- on which two years have passed- has revealed the inability of the international community to use international law as a basis and reference in prosecution. In fact, the international community has taken the direction of granting security to war criminals through political agreements, instead of taking them to court.
In particular, the Russian Federation has done everything in its capacity to stop justice from being established with regards to this massacre, as well as all violations which have taken place in Syria since the beginning of 2011 and until today. In addition, the reactions of other actors in the international community have not gone beyond verbal utterances and have not helped in creating serious initiatives to follow international law with regards to those accused.
It is of no doubt that the position of the international community has left its effect in the further war crimes which Syria has witnessed. Syria has witnessed an increase in the use of poisonous gases since the Ghouta massacre and until today, as well as the excessive use of arbitrary weapons such as explosive barrels and sea mines- which have killed approximately 120 times more victims than that of the Ghouta massacre.
The absence of the principle of accountability, and the securing of political outlets for war criminals to escape punishment has led to an increase in extremism in both Syria and the surrounding area, especially as families of victims no longer have any hope in legal institutions to bring them justice. This has led to dangerous realities in Syria which has spread to neighbouring countries and will continue to spread if real measurements to implement international law are not taken.