A group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have lodged a criminal complaint in Germany on behalf of the victims of several chemical weapon attacks in Syria. The Justice Initiative, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and the Syrian Archive submitted the filing and dossier of evidence to the German federal public prosecutor in Karlsruhe on behalf of victims on 8 October 2020.
“Our years-long investigation on behalf of victims compiles extensive evidence indicating that senior Syrian government officials are responsible for the Eastern Ghouta and Khan Shaykhun sarin attacks as part of a widespread and deliberate pattern of targeting opposition-held areas with chemical weapons since 2012,” said Hadi al Khatib, founder and director of Syrian Archive, in statement. “Now is the time for competent European prosecutors to jointly investigate Syria’s chemical weapons programme and issue arrest warrants for the Syrian officials responsible.”
There were several reports of chemical weapons being used on civilian areas by the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. In one incident, at least 1,400 people are thought to have died in a sarin gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta in 2013.
A sarin attack in the Idlib town of Khan Shaykhun which the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) blamed directly on the Syrian government and its air force, killed more than 80 civilians in April 2017.
Chemical attacks became a major political flashpoint, provoking international condemnation and resulted in US cruise missile strikes against the regime’s Shayrat Airbase. They remain a point of bitter contention between the US and Assad’s Russian allies, with the latter accusing the Syrian opposition of staging the incident, and US allies blaming the Assad regime.
Syria has categorically denied its involvement in the chemical attack, claiming it no longer possesses chemical weapons following a 2013 deal under which it pledged to surrender its chemical arsenal. However, The Syrian government has not yet complied with the latest OPCW demand to declare the remainder of its chemical weapons stockpile, which could lead to a collective response from member states later this year over Syria’s violation of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.
“It is not reasonable that the international community is dealing with the grave crime of chemical weapons use with the disregard that we are witnessing today. The lack of concrete action to hold the Syrian government accountable puts at stake not only Syrians’ rights, but the rights of all of humanity,” said Mazen Darwish, director general and founder of SCM, in Tuesday’s statement. “Syria is a test of the world’s resolve to hold war criminals accountable, and failure is not an option. That’s why international efforts must unite to prevent impunity for these crimes and to ensure that they do not recur.”
The Syrian NGOs also urged a number of countries including Germany, Sweden and Norway to conduct investigations into the crimes, because they have “extraterritorial jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.”
“Prosecutors in these countries can conduct investigations into these serious crimes even when suspects are not present in their territory and neither the victims nor perpetrators are citizens of the investigating country,” the statement reads.
Caption: The destruction of Idlib. (UNICEF)