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One year on, justice still evades families of chemical attack victims in Syria

Thursday, 21 August 2014 - 5:03pm IST Updated: Thursday, 21 August 2014 - 7:50pm IST | Agency: dna webdesk

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On August 21, one year ago, a draconian massacre involving chemical weapons took place at Ghouta, eastern Damascus, Syria, shocking the world community.  

Killing hundreds and injuring over thousands, the use of chemical weapons called for an intervention by the United Nations. The joint team of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition Of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed in December 2013 that "chemical weapons have been used" in the conflict in Syria. Ake Sellstrom, a Swedish expert in arms headed the international team which carried out the probe into the incident and a team was set up specifically to look into the issue.

Once the existence and use of chemical weapons was established, a deal negotiated by Russia and United States called for President Bashar al​-Assad to agree to destroy all chemical weapons in Syria. This was after Washington threatened to retaliate using force after the sarin gas attack which occurred on August 21. 

It was then decided that 21 out of 23 chemical weapon production and mixing facilities would be destroyed. The remaining two could not be reached since those areas were under the control of rebels fighting to overthrow the Assad regime. However, it was reported by the state media that the army had captured the chemical weapons site- Safira. 

The initial deadline of December 31 was missed due to bad weather, logistical problems and bitter fighting in Syria's civil war. This delayed the transport of the chemical weapons to the port of Latakia, according to a joint statement from the UN and the OPCW. 

In September 2013, India too welcomed the decision of destroying chemical weapons in Syria. "India welcomes the framework agreement reached between Russia and the US on the time-bound safeguarding and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. As an important step in the process, India also welcomes the recent steps taken by Syria to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin had stated. 

On June 23 this year, the OPCW declared that the removal of chemical weapons was complete.

Photo: AFP

It was for this reason that the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for carrying out, along with the UN, a peaceful removal of the chemical weapons in Syria. 

On Wednesday, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the destruction of chemical weapons on board the United States Maritime Vessel Cape Ray. "This marks a significant achievement in the international community’s efforts to eliminate the chemical weapons programme of the Syrian Arab Republic following the framework agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States of America," the UN chief said in a statement issued by his spokesperson in New York.

The Human Rights Watch has said that the attacks in Syria portrayed "the most significant use of chemical agents since the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein, who used them in an attack on Iraqi Kurds in 1988." In May, a resolution that would have taken the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) was blocked by Russia (a strong supporter of the Assad government and an arms supplier to Syria) and China.

Thus, even though the international community came together to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria, the victims of this gruesome attack have still not got justice. As Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW said, "Important though it is, the removal of chemical weapons from Syria’s arsenal will do nothing for the hundreds of victims who died a year ago and the relatives who survive them. Closure on the chemical weapons issue in Syria will be possible only when those who ordered and executed the Ghouta attacks have been held to account and are behind bars."

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