How many chemical attacks will Assad get away with?
It is possible that in the long term, the report will pave the way for formal war crime charges against the regime
Investigators from the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have reportedly found Bashar al-Assad’s regime guilty of carrying out at least two chlorine bombing attacks over the course of the last two years, marking the first such time the UN has identified parties responsible for continued chemical weapon attacks in Syria. Notably, the New York Times further reported that the same investigation, which focused on nine chemical weapon attacks, confirmed ISIS was guilty of using mustard gas in Marea on August 21, 2015.
Now that the UN has begun to confirm precisely what Syrians who have actually lived through such horror have repeatedly alleged, the report presents an opportunity to hold the regime responsible for this specific type of brutality being committed against the Syrian people. CNN reported that US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price issued a written statement noting “it is now impossible to deny that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people.” It is likely that those who have lived through chlorine barrel bombings did not need confirmation of which party – the only one with an airforce – was ultimately determined to be responsible by the UN. Also, chlorine attacks are no more horrifying than using starvation as a weapon or systematically bombarding health care facilities. That said, the US and Russia brokered a deal that would ostensibly lead to the end of chemical weapon attacks in Syria. Such a reality never came into existence of course and now both parties must confront the truth presented in this report: The regime has continued to use chlorine gas as a weapon since the agreement regarding the country’s chemical weapons program was implemented.
Thus far, no report – by the UN itself or any other aid organization - has prompted any action or the serious threat of action against the regimeBrooklyn Middleton
Since the chemical weapons deal, which was struck after the regime executed a major Sarin attack in Eastern Ghouta on August 22, 2013, reports have periodically surfaced indicating Damascus has either held onto some of its chemical weapons or failed to disclose the location of sites possessing such. One of the most astonishing facts about the deal was that the regime was allowed to self-report its own inventory of chemical weapons; thus, the entire deal was predicated on the supposed honesty of a regime that had just massacred its own people with Sarin. Meanwhile, the regime has continually executed chlorine attacks against civilians with total impunity, including as recently as this month when a mother and her two children suffocated to death in Zebdiya. Thus far, no report – by the UN itself or any other aid organization - has prompted any action or the serious threat of action against the regime. Shamefully, this latest report – like the myriad others that have documented atrocities carried out by the Assad regime – will likely be filed away and possibly viewed at a date when better geopolitical circumstances permit.
It is possible that in the long term, the report will pave the way for formal war crime charges against the regime. But in the meantime, it could be that the regime will continue carrying out chlorine attacks with no fear of being punished for doing so. If this apparent confirmation of the regime’s culpability in chemical warfare does indeed go ignored, it will further reiterate to Damascus that the Syrian military has no reason to ever fear any previously set red lines and that no outside party will act to protect Syrian civilians.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.Save