Investigations | 20 Oct 2014

One full year has passed since the chemical massacre which claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians due to the inhalation of toxic gases, caused by nerve gas attack on the East Ghouta in Rural Damascus, on August 12, 2014.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC) announced that the high mortality rate was due to the panic and confusion among the population after the attack on their areas, as, instead heading to the upper floors, civilians sought shelter in their basements. The VDC added that the lack of protective equipment for paramedics, added to the ensuing chaos and confusion at the medical points, compounded the tragedy of families by adding the loss of many children thereto. 


In the Realm of Politics 

Immediately after the attack, the State Building Movement (SBM) condemned it, considering the killing of Syrian civilians a crime regardless of the party carrying out such action—without directly charging any party— and calling for an International Commission of Inquiry to identify the perpetrator. 

Saleh Mussalam, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (KDUP), on the other hand, announced his belief that the Syrian regime was not responsible for the attack. 

The position of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) was in tune with that of the opposition National Coalition (NC), accusing the regime and holding it responsible. NCC member Riad Dirar told Rozana that "President Barack Obama felt tangled after having threatened al-Assad. He therefore passed the matter onto Congress, even though he was entitled to take the decision, as president, of launching military strikes. He simply did not want to bear the moral responsibility." 

He also pointed out that the chemical weapons was a “Russian game,” whereby Russia was able to save al-Assad. He stressed that the initiative to dismantle Syria's checmical arsenal came from the NCC via the Russian ambassador in Lebanon. The NCC met him in Beirut, and discussed the possibility that Russia become the custodian of chemical weapons pending a change in the situation in Syria. 

The Russian ambassador then proceeded to carry this message to Moscow, which later developed into an agreement with the Americans then, subsequently, the Iranian-Syrian meeting and the resulting approval of the regime, within mere minutes, to hand the chemical weapons over.

Member of Parliament Sharif Shehadeh in an interview with Rozana however, cited Carla Del Ponte, former Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, who accused the Syrian opposition of using chemical weapons. 

He added that any observer of recent events will be able to find Washington’s acknowledgement, based on information published in newspapers, of the armed opposition’s possession of chemical weapons, through materials smuggled from Turkey. He stated his belief that the Syrian regime did not require the use of chemical weapons, with enough conventional weaponry at its disposal by means of which it can fight the armed groups on the ground; also pointing out that the regime, prior to the crisis, had made a call to make the region free of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. 


The Truth?

Determining the identity of the perpetrator had not been one of the functions of the Truth Commission, which was sent to the area, according to NC member Mohammed Sabra. He added that “one of the existing pieces of evidence was a retractable missile head capable of carrying a chemical load, which only the regime possesses."

He also pointed out that the regime’s possession of large amounts of Sarin gas with carrying warheads are legally admissible evidence in international courts. 

Sabra explained that the main problem is that the regime is not a signatory to the Rome Statute system founding the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Security Council is, therefore, blocked from taking this matter to court. There are, however, some legal mechanisms that can be adjusted to allow for this case to be taken to the ICC. 

The coalition added that bringing the case before European courts is being considered at this stage, due to the nature of the current balances in the Security Council, which is still tightly controlled so as to prevent the case from ever making it to the ICC. He also pointed to ongoing efforts to establish an association of the families of civilians who died in the massacre, as this is a necessity to have a party legally qualified to demand the prosecution of the perpetrators.

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