OPCW Releases Third Report by Investigation and Identification Team
Reasonable grounds to identify Syrian Arab Air Forces as perpetrators of 2018 Douma chemical attack
- The Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat established the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) pursuant to the Decision by the Conference of the States Parties entitled “Addressing the Threat from Chemical Weapons Use” (C-SS-4/DEC.3, dated 27 June 2018). The IIT began its work in June 2019, focusing on certain incidents for which the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria (FFM) had determined that use or likely use of chemical weapons on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic occurred and for which the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism had not reached a final conclusion.
- The IIT is not a judicial body with the authority to assign individual criminal responsibility, nor does the IIT have the authority to make final findings of non-compliance with the Convention. The mandate of the IIT is to establish the facts. 3. This third report of the IIT sets out the findings of the investigations conducted in the period between January 2021 and December 2022, focusing on the incident in Douma, the Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018. On the basis of all the information obtained and its analysis, the IIT concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, between 19:10 and 19:40 (UTC+3) on 7 April 2018, during a major military offensive aimed at regaining control of the city of Douma, at least one Mi-8/17 helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force, departing from Dumayr airbase and operating under the control of the Tiger Forces, dropped two yellow cylinders which hit two residential buildings in a central area of the city.
- At Location 2, 1 the cylinder hit the rooftop floor of a three-storey residential building without fully penetrating it, ruptured, and rapidly released toxic gas—chlorine—in very high concentrations, which rapidly dispersed within the building, killing 43 named individuals and affecting dozens more.
- At Location 4,1 the cylinder hit the roof of a three-storey residential building (at the time uninhabited), and broke into the apartment below. The cylinder ruptured only partially, and started to slowly release chlorine, mildly affecting those who first arrived at the scene.
- The IIT reached its conclusions on the basis of the degree of certainty of “reasonable grounds”, which is the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry. In reaching its conclusions, the IIT carefully assessed the information obtained from the FFM, States Parties, and other entities, coupled with interviews conducted by the IIT and analyses of samples, munition remnants, gas dispersion models, cylinder drop trials, computer modelling, satellite imagery, authenticated videos and photographs, as well as advice from experts, specialists, and forensic institutes, along with other relevant materials and sources. The IIT reviewed over 19,000 files, amounting to more than 1.86 terabytes, obtained and assessed 66 witness statements, five of which were from women, and considered data related to 70 samples. The IIT assessed this information holistically, scrutinising carefully its probative value through a widely shared methodology in compliance with best practices of international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry. In so doing, the IIT adhered to applicable OPCW procedures, including with respect to chain of custody, supplemented as appropriate. The IIT thoroughly pursued lines of inquiry 1 For the purposes of the present report, the IIT has adopted the same naming convention for the two locations of interest as that used in the relevant report of the FFM. S/2125/2023 page 3 and scenarios suggested by the Syrian authorities and other States Parties, but was unable to obtain any concrete information supporting them. The conclusions in this report are based on the combination, consistency, and corroboration of all of the information gathered as a whole.
- The challenges faced by the IIT included its inability to access the sites of the incident in the Syrian Arab Republic. The IIT regrets that this access was not granted, despite: (a) various requests addressed by the Technical Secretariat to the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic since the establishment of the IIT; (b) the obligation by the Syrian Arab Republic to cooperate with the Technical Secretariat under paragraph 7 of Article VII of the Chemical Weapons Convention; and (c) the obligation incumbent on the Syrian Arab Republic, pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolution 2118 (2013), to cooperate fully with the OPCW by providing personnel designated by the OPCW with immediate and unfettered access to any and all sites and individuals that the OPCW has grounds to believe to be of importance for the purpose of its mandate. The IIT has expressed on several occasions its readiness to meet with representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic, at their convenience and at a location of their choosing, to discuss the progress of its activities and their modalities. 8. The Decision of 27 June 2018 by the Conference of the States Parties requires the Technical Secretariat to provide the reports on the IIT investigations to the OPCW Executive Council and to the United Nations Secretary-General for their consideration, and to preserve and provide information to the mechanism established by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 71/248 (2016), as well as to any relevant investigatory entities established under the auspices of the United Nations. Accordingly, the IIT has endeavoured to compile this report and its related records and findings in a manner suitable for future use by these bodies. This also means that the IIT has carefully considered, in reaching its conclusions, that the information used in this report may be assessed and used by other bodies in the future.