For Immediate Release
A draft U.N. Security Council resolution that reportedly seeks to assign blame in the gas attacks plaguing Syrians is a welcome and overdue step, but will likely fail to provide immediate relief, according to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
The draft resolution, proposed by the United States, and backed by the United Kingdom and France, purportedly calls for the creation of an attribution mechanism to collect evidence and determine the source of the attacks, moving beyond independent experts’ previous confirmation of their existence.
“There is no doubt that the proposed attribution mechanism is vital for future justice, but we are concerned that an additional investigation process at this point will become a distraction as countries haggle over the mechanics of its implementation, while the perpetrator – the Syrian government – hides in plain sight and conducts additional attacks,” said Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s director of international policy. “Given the overwhelming amount of existing evidence that gas attacks are carried out using helicopters, which only the Syrian government possesses, there is no reason for the U.N. Security Council to continue ignoring this violation of its own resolutions. It only delays a response while more Syrians continue to suffer and die.”
Since March 16, Syrians have endured 14 chlorine gas attacks, according to the White Helmets, a relief group consisting of unarmed civilian volunteers who are providing assistance in Syria. PHR’s own research supports their figures. While chlorine is not a prohibited substance under the Chemical Weapons Convention and was not included in the 2013 agreement to remove chemical weapons from Syria, it is a violation of the Convention to use it as a weapon. The chlorine gas attacks in Syria – corroborated by solid evidence and witness testimony, including by doctors – are a violation of the treaty banning chemical weapons, signed by Syria, as well as the UN Security Council’s recent resolution condemning the use of weaponized chlorine in Syria.
Following a chemical attack in 2013, the Syrian government agreed to dispose of its chemical weapons. Since then, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an independent group of experts, have confirmed that chlorine or a similar toxic agent has been deployed in the country on at least three occasions. Chemical weapons cause widespread death and permanent injury. Once released, these difficult-to-control poisons kill indiscriminately, recognizing neither uniform nor flag. PHR’s Fact Sheet on Chlorine Gas explains the symptoms, harm, and necessary response to a chlorine gas attack.
On March 11, PHR released a report detailing four years of targeted attacks on health professionals and medical facilities in Syria – mainly by the Syrian government – including the killing of 610 medical professionals and 233 attacks on 183 medical facilities. PHR has previously called on the Security Council to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity can be held accountable.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.