First anniversary of Ghouta chemical attack: NPWJ calls for justice and accountability in Syria

Brussels – Rome – New York, 21 August 2014

On 21 August 2013, a chemical attack, of sarin or a similar weapons-grade nerve agent, struck the opposition-controlled Damascus suburbs of Eastern and Western Ghouta, killing over 1,400 people - mostly civilians, including large numbers of children. Available evidence strongly suggests that President Assad’s forces carried out the attack, although the Syrian Government denied responsibility.
This horrific event provoked a worldwide outcry and prompted the unanimous adoption, on 27 September 2013, of Security Council Resolution 2118, calling for the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program. Subsequently, under international pressure, the Syrian Arab Republic agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and accepted a plan to destroy its chemical weapons under the supervision of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the implementing body of the CWC.  On 19 August 2014, the OCPW announced that the removal and destruction of the most lethal chemical weapons declared to be possessed by the Syrian regime had been completed.
Statement by Alison Smith, Legal Counsel and Director of the International Criminal Justice Program of No Peace Without Justice: 
“As the Syrian people mark the first anniversary of the Ghouta chemical attacks, No Peace Without Justice and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty mourn the victims and continue to call for justice and redress for this outrageous crime, which stands out among the several horrors that have been inflicted on civilians since the beginning of the conflict which continues to ravage Syria.
“While world leaders celebrate the OCPW’s announcement that the chemical weapons stockpile declared by the Syrian regime has been destroyed, we can only deeply lament that so far no meaningful step has been undertaken to hold those who ordered and executed the Ghouta massacre to account. Russia and China’s persistent and shameful obstruction, including to the UN Security Council proposed resolution that would have referred the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), has also impeded international efforts to ensure accountability for the many other appalling crimes and abuses that have been committed against the civilian population in Syria.
“For the past three years, Syria has witnessed crimes against humanity, war crimes and other gross human rights violations, which continue to be perpetrated with increasing frequency and total impunity. More than three years into the conflict well over 150,000 lives have been lost, according to the United Nations, and nearly half the population has been forced to flee their homes. Worse, several independent investigations reported that, over the course of this year and since Syria signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention, President Assad’s forces have used other toxic substances, including chlorine gas, in systematic attacks against civilian areas, in another blatant breach of international humanitarian law.
“So far, the international community has been lax in its obligation to protect civilians and has failed to help restore peace in Syria. As we have consistently advocated since the beginning of the conflict, being firm on accountability is the only effective tool to break the cycle of violence and terror in Syria. It is more than time for the international community to heed the call of the Syrian people for justice, freedom and protection of their human rights and support their efforts, after 40 years under dictatorship, to anchor their country’s future on democracy and the rule of law”.
NPWJ’s Syria Project on Justice and Accountability
NPWJ project aims at reducing the expectation and rewards of impunity and at building a culture of accountability. The purpose is to equip citizens to demand accountability and justice for violations taking place on a daily basis for the past three years and, at the same time, to equip the judiciary and legal profession to answer that demand. The mainstay of the project is a series of advocacy and training events, which are being held in Gaziantep, Turkey, near the Syrian border, with Syrian judges, lawyers and civil society activists from Syria who can bring the skills and (perhaps more importantly) aspirations for justice back to their work and their constituents inside Syria. The long-term goal of this project is to promote democracy and human rights protection through incorporating justice and accountability in decision-making on conflict resolution and stability, development, and reconstructing planning in Syria. The project’s strategic objective is to support Syrian civil society playing an active role on justice and accountability issues, including advocacy and documenting human rights violations, including receiving, gathering, collecting, collating, processing and securely storing information, documentation and materials and analyse it for the purpose of establishing what happened and reconstructing decision-making processes that resulted in violations international humanitarian and human rights law in Syria since March 2011.
For further information, please contact Alison Smith on or +32-(0)2-548-3912 or Nicola Giovannini on or +32-(0)2-548-3915.