Syria: NPWJ Concludes First Training Course on Chemical Weapons Awareness and Documentation for Syrian Human Rights Activists

14 Oct, 2013 | Press Releases

Gaziantep, Turkey, 14 October 2013

On 7-12 October 2013, No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), together with Assistance Cooperation Unit (ACU), the operative branch of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria (VDC) andGlobal Political Trends Centre (GPOT) of Istanbul Kültür University, and with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held a training course on “Chemical weapons awareness and documentation”.

The training took place in the city of Gaziantep, Southern Turkey, where a number of International NGOs and International Organisations have been based since the start of the crisis. Participants included representatives from ACU,  VDC and representatives of informal associations and NGOs working inside Syria, including the Free Syrian Lawyers Union, the Syrian Commission for Justice and Accountability and Women for Peace. Participants also included legal professionals and doctors and medical personnel active in field hospitals around Northern Syria, Deir Azzor and Damascus countryside.

The training aimed to introduce participants to all relevant aspects linked to the use of chemical weapons: the nature and basic characteristics of different chemical weapons; signs and symptoms associated with their use; the international humanitarian, human rights and criminal legal framework; responsive techniques and strategies; documentation; and advocacy.

The presenters for the Training Course were experts in each of the specialised areas addressed by the course. Dr Alastair Hay, professor at the University of Leeds (UK) and member of Physician for Human Rights, together with General Salvatore Carrara, former officer in the Italian Army, elaborated the general topic of chemical weapon devices and described the different type of chemical agents and their effects. Mr Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, Chief Operating Officer of SecureBio Ltd, focused on risk management in the case of chemical attack in order to minimise the danger and threats. DrNiccolò Figà-Talamanca and Ms Alison Smith, both from NPWJ, highlighted the international legal and juridical framework, focusing not only the Chemical Weapons Convention but also on general International Criminal Law and International Humanitarian Law. Ms Smith stressed the need of documenting in a proper way eventual war crimes or crimes against humanity. Dr Hay, who gave concrete demonstrations of samples collection and analysis, also focused on this issue.

NPWJ was honoured to receive a contribution to the training from the President of the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), Ms Suheir Atassi, and from the Prime Minister of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Mr Ahmat Tumeh.

Ms Atassi underlined the importance of this kind of Legal and Documentation trainings in these times of heavy fighting and war in Syria. Ms Atassi focused on the necessity of updating and learning new ways of reporting on war crimes and crimes against humanity, stating that “No Peace Without Justice should be one of the slogans of the Syrian revolution”.

Prime Minister Tumeh tackled the issue of security inside the country and explained why right now, the study and creation of a new legislative framework is one of the most urgent needs in order to save the Syrian social fabric, avoiding sectarian divisions and fighting against the Baath strategy of “divide and conquer” to maintain the control of the country.

Dr Figà-Talamanca, as Secretary-General of NPWJ, stressed the importance of accountability and transitional justice in order to keep hope alive and avoid the circle of violence in a war situation.

The workshop was enriched by the participants’ previous experience on chemical weapon attack response and documentation and built on their knowledge and capacity to address not only the chemical weapons threat, but also more in general the issues related to transitional justice and accountability processes.

NPWJ and Syria
This five-day training course is part of an NPWJ project aimed at assisting existing and nascent civil society organisations and networks to contribute most effectively to Syrian transitional justice documentation and policy discussions, which will in turn help shape the future of their country towards institutions that embrace principles of democracy and pluralism, and that offer redress and accountability for human rights violations and promote reconciliation. It does so in part through information sharing and training, and in part through capacity building among Syrian civil society actors to receive and coordinate external assistance, especially on transitional justice and accountability issues.

The long-term goal of this project is to promote democracy and human rights protection through incorporating transitional justice and accountability in decision-making on conflict resolution and stability, development, and reconstruction planning in Syria.

The project’s strategic objective is to support Syrian civil society playing an active role on transitional justice and accountability issues, including on 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.

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For further information, contact Alison Smith on or +32-2-548 39 12 or Nicola Giovannini on or +32-2-548-3915.