Enough hand-wringing on Syria

The UN chemical weapons investigation team arrived in Damascus on 18 August © LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

By Cilina Nasser, Amnesty International’s researcher on Syria

This originally appeared as an op-ed on MSN UK.

It is impossible to watch the videos that emanated from Syria yesterday and not be moved, yet again, to rage about the international community’s repeated failure to end the slaughter of civilians amid the country’s internal armed conflict.

The videos – showing the deadly effects of an alleged chemical weapons attack on scores of civilians, including children, in towns outside Damascus – are just the latest chilling indication of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

While it is difficult to verify the authenticity of the images – or lay blame – at this stage, Amnesty International has contacted medical and other experts to establish if the symptoms shown by those affected are congruent with the use of chemical weapons. Organizations and individuals in Syria are also helping us to gather further information about the current medical condition of people in the affected area.

The Syrian government has adamantly denied responsibility for the attack, but has so far failed to allow access to a UN team that has just arrived in Damascus after several months of negotiation to investigate earlier alleged chemical attacks. The situation reveals the level of paralysis that has gripped the international community in dealing with Syria.

This paralysis is so extreme that an emergency session of the UN Security Council yesterday called for “clarity” on what happened, but fell short of even calling for an investigation. Time is running fast. The UN team must immediately have access to the site of the alleged attack, be allowed to collect samples, gather evidence which risks being destroyed, interview victims and witnesses, and carry out its work safely in an area under the control of armed opposition groups and shelling by the government. It would be grotesque to have a UN team looking into use of chemical weapons not investigate what could be the most lethal chemical attack since their use by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Whoever was behind the attack, one thing is clear – the international community must now mobilize not only to condemn it, but to bring those responsible to justice.

Any use of chemical weapons may amount to a war crime or a crime against humanity. Even though Syria is one of only a handful of countries that haven’t signed or acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention – which bans the use, production, stockpiling or transfer of such weapons – all states have a shared responsibility to investigate and prosecute such crimes under international law, no matter where they are committed.

Forming joint international investigation and prosecution teams would improve the chances of effective arrests and prosecutions. If any of those responsible were to attempt to seek safe haven abroad, under universal jurisdiction they must be arrested and investigated. UN Security Council members should step up and lead this effort.

The international community has been given one last chance to turn the corner on its ineffectual response to the long litany of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Syria – which have left more than 100,000 dead, millions displaced and forced almost 2 million refugees to flee.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the UN Security Council to refer the grave situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court – to begin the process of holding those responsible, on all sides, to account.

We are beyond hand-wringing on Syria. Civilians continue to be targeted or killed indiscriminately. The time for action is now.

Read more:
Syria: UN team must get full access to investigate ‘chemical weapons’ claim (Newsflash, 21 August 2013)

Posted in Armed Conflict, Syria, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

  1. David Chan says:

    Please help the wounded children and women as soon as possible

  2. The inept reaction to these atrocities makes you feel ashamed to be part of Humanity. Elected governments in the West are dictated to by those who do their evil in the shadows and manipulate world activities.This is the price that innocents are paying for those Leaders not having the will,courage and compassion strong enough to challenge and put an end to all these evils

  3. Rahila Q says:

    Hear, hear we all need to unite! The more we unite, the greater the chance of stopping innocent civilians being killed. Even if enough evidence may not be brought out on chemical use in syria, innocents have been killed ruthlessly. That is a fact. And action must be taken.

  4. L. Carton, mother and part of the International Community says:

    Amnesty International,

    Dear and highly respected Cilina Nasser,
    This is a good statement.
    Syria has turned into one large Concentration Camp for its citizens.
    And Damascus suburb Zamalka has turned into a gaz chamber.

    It is clear, and it will be quickly ‘clarified’ for the UN Security Council:
    The international community needs to act.
    There cannot be intentional and verified use of chemical weaponry like Sarin and the international community still watching but not responding. There must be respons. What the type of action will be, will it be air force taking down the chemical sites, a no fly zone, focussed drone attacks on the Assads army, or providing large-scale weapons to the Free Syria Army; the swamp of Syria has already dragged the International Community, with the European Countries, the US and Russia, in. Into its neck.
    If the UN means something, this union can no longer let itself be taken hostage by a Veto of an individual country where the human rights are violated itself. And keep watching as the massacre takes place and unfolds. Remember Rwanda. What happens in Syria now is mass murder. Genocide.

    Today on the news we see the videos of the deavilish killing fields of innocent children, women, civilians.
    While the UN must judge the evidence that is smuggled from the site out of the country and into UN representatives, the plan to act must be started. Even Russia agrees this research must take place: thus as soon as this research will proof what we all already intuitively know: there has been an attack of chemical weapons on this area in the Damascus suburb.

    Mister Assad, off course you do not read Amnesty International.
    But if I could speak up to you:
    Assad, YOU are the first person responsible for this, for this ruined-earth inferno. There are no excuses.
    These are your ‘open air gaz chambers’ in Ghouta, Eastern Damascus, executed under your command.
    Where is your soul? How deep did you let the devil in you? Where you raised by Pol Pot?
    Look at the Killing Fields of the Red Khmer, look at Auswitz under Hitler, look at Sassam Hussain. There is no way out of this. You need to make a turn.
    You need to surrender. To save the lives of others. This comes with a price. But all other prices are higher.
    If there has ever been a good man inside of you, then stop warfaring, turn your voice to the International Criminal Court, and take responsibility for your people. Let the international community in, let them do their work. Your stay in power lets death tolls of innocent victims, including many children, only go up. How much death is enough for you?
    If your family members have not been swallowed by the Devil as well, they should advice you to sacrifice yourself in order to save them.
    Otherwise, you will be King of an Empty Country, with no humans left to kill and no sense of humanity to be found in the whole of Syria. Including any sense of humanity among your own family; there will be revenge and betrayal, and it will be closer among your relatives then you imagine. Everything you will ever eat can be poisoned for those who’s daily work is to sow hatred.
    Only the search for international reason and handing in control to the international community can bring any humanity back into your heart and resque parts of your soul. If you remember that you have once been a child of 6 years old, remember this: Being alive is about being child. Life is for the next generation, for our children. For all our children. The needs of our children define what we have to do in life.
    Stop killing children. It is not them or you: it is only them. In 40 years from now, it is certain that there will be no you. You will be gone. The question is, how did you leave the Earth and all its lifeforms behind.
    The only question that matters is then; did you respect life itself.
    (of who-ever, what-ever ‘side’, what-ever situation, what-ever lifeform)

  5. Roop says:

    Why you hypocrite don’t Ask USA to stop feeding terrorism using rebels?
    Just shame on Amensty too for being such hypocrite.

  6. Richard says:

    There are only two possibilities and two outcomes:
    1. The Syrian government launched the chemical weapon attach. In this case, it’s a perfect excuse for western powers and israel to directly attach Syria and solve the Hezbollah problem once and for all.
    2. The opposition was behind the crime. In this case the western powers will pretend nothing ever happened. Civilians will continue be killed in the cross files between the two sides.

  7. Augustine says:

    It is time for the international community to intervene. It doesn’t matter if Syria hasn’t acceded to the CWC; it is an accepted international law position that CW can not be used in any conflict whatsoever. We can not just be all talk and threats with no action. Those permanent UN members that veto any attempts to intervene in the Syria crisis need to understand that there are people dying each passing day. Time for selfish considerations is over, lets put Human Rights first.

    • The international community should intervene with the support of Amnesty International.
      first they should demand the withdrwal of the Noble Prize of peace from Obama. (Do you know that both Hitler and Stalin were also nominated for the Peace Prize?)

      The they should demand that Bush, Blair, Obama, Etc should be takne to the Hague Court of Human Rights for crimes against humanity. If Amnesty International is who they say they are, they should have this as their priority.

  8. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A SUPPORTER OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL.

    I WANT TO BECOME MORE INVOLVED.

    BUT I WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL IS NOT AN ADVOCATE FOR INTERNATIONAL AGGRESSION BY THE AXIS OF EVIL- AMERICA, ENGLAND AND IT ALLIES.

    I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT ACTIONS IT HAS TAKEN AGAINST THE INVASION OF IRAQ, LIBYA, PALESTINE, AND OTHER COUNTRIES THAT DO NOT SUIT THE INTERESTS OF THE SUPERPOWERS WHO WISH TO ENFORCE THEIR WILL ON WEAKER NATIONS.

    I WANT TO KNOW WHAT ACTIONS IT HAS TAKEN AGAINST THE BRUTAL MASSACRES OF INNOCENT CIVILIANS IN SYRIA BY FANATIC MUSLIM FUNDAMENTALISTS. I WANT TO KNOW HOW IT PURSUES THE ENDIND TO THE COLD BLOOD MURDER OF CHRISTIANS AND OTHER MINORITIES IN SYRIA.

    I WANT TO KNOW WHAT GIVES THE RIGHT TO INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS TO ALLOW THE DESTRUCTION OF NATIONS AND INNOCENTS IN ORDER TO ADVOCATE THE WARMONGERS OF THE WESTERN.

    THEN, AS A PACIFIST, I WANT TO JOIN IN ORDER TO TRY TO HELP AND MAKE A CHANGE.

  9. L. Carton, mother and part of the International Community says:

    >> 10 September 2013:
    The moment for the Security Council to deliver its reports on Syria is near.
    The Security Council will soon be ready with the Analysis of Evidence and Nature of the Attack on Syria citizens on August 21th near Damascus, and must present its findings to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The power of the Security Council, as is laid down in Article 12, Chapter IV of the United Nations Charter, is limited and related to the functions delegated by the Member states; the Security Council is mandated to submit, when necessary, special reports to the General Assembly for its consideration (article 24, chapter 5).
    The deliberative process among nations should not be fought over in the ‘small room’ of the security council committee, where only few member states –including Russia and the USA– have carved and shaped for themselves unlimited veto power during the foundations of the UN organization, as laid out in the UN Charter in 1945. (This un-equitable representation on the Security Council has also been on the agenda of the 67th General Assembly, and will be on the agenda of the 68th General Assembly, opening soon –September 17th 2013).
    The General Assembly should be regarded as the highest organ of united nations where the voice of the international community on humanitarian values should ultimately be formulated, centered around deliberation, diplomacy and democracy.

    For what president Assad can do: Admit that the chemical attack took place in your country, and so bearing responsibility. “Act for restraint”: Act to limit damage instead of letting army generals use ultimate sources of killing machinery –including all they can lay a hand on, such as cluster bombs and sarin. In order to show a sense of adulthood and responsibility, Assad should make meaningful acts, not give television interviews with misty words that resonate childish claims and behaviour, like “I did not do it” or “there is no evidence that my army did this”, which resemble much of Lance Armstrong’s denials that he did not use doping. The world has had enough of those types of statements, they are recognized as empty statements.
    Meaningfull acts would be:
    • Order your troops to stop bombing from the air: keep the air-fleet on the ground and make sure this restraint is implemented; (this would signal a real willingness. A massive killing from the air of your own population is taking place, without any efforts from your side to stop this, so far)
    • Order the quickest possible hand-over of those stocks of chemical weapons to an International Committee, and openly, formally regret any use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria under your command;
    • Admit that the country has already collapsed and surrender power to the international community:
    • Officially request the UN to come in with a blue helmet operation, in order to restore a possible cease-fire, making sure the humanitarian disaster and refugee flows can be managed instead of worsened, and re-install some order (in what form exactly to be decided upon by a special committee of the UN);
    • Invite the UN international community to form an international safety zone within Syria;
    • And visit hospitals where civilians are recovering from (chemical) weapon attacks, confronting yourself with the personal tragedies and horrors of war, so close to your palace. — perhaps your education as a doctor could restore some sense of humanitarian feelings of solidarity, or what it means to be only human.

  10. Stewart says:

    Yes Mr Assad, HOW do you resolve this ongoing crisis? Even though you do not read this blog someone close to you may.

  11. Reggie says:

    I don’t believe all of this propaganda. It’s another clear argument to get the petro $ flowing.

  12. Henry says:

    Gosh, I really don’t envy their current situation, yet another fight today (if you can call air raid a fight at all…).

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