Despite evidence, Why does Syrian regime continue to deny its use of chemical weapons?

Foreign and Expatriates Minister Faisal Mekdad at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva - February 28, 2024 (SANA)

Foreign and Expatriates Minister Faisal Mekdad at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva - February 28, 2024 (SANA)


Enab Baladi – Razam al-Sawadi

The Syrian regime rejects the reports of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concerning its use of internationally banned chemical weapons against the Syrian people in various areas, despite the organisation’s complaint about the obstacles the regime has placed, including not facilitating access to the sites of the strikes, contravening its international obligations.

Despite existing evidence based on interviews with witnesses and doctors present at the time of the attacks, expert analysis of samples and residues collected from the sites of the incidents, and satellite imagery, Damascus sees the organisation as biased in its declarations to the side of the position of the United States and its supporting countries.

In the latest statement by the regime’s permanent representative to the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons organisation, Milad Atieh, on March 6, he mentioned that the United States and some supporting Western countries have turned the organisation into an arena for settling “geopolitical, aggressive, and colonial” accounts, and its independence is at stake.

The regime and its spokespeople do not forget to direct all accusations towards “terrorist organisations,” as they call them, such as Jabhat al-Nusra (currently known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), and the Islamic State organisation.

On February 28, the Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, gave a speech via video during the Disarmament Conference in Geneva, saying that Syria’s experience with the organisation revealed a state of “serious” polarization within it, about the dominance of Western countries over the work of its technical secretariat, and targeting of Syria.

Ignoring evidence

The regime’s representative, Milad Atieh, accused the organisation in the same statement of not dealing professionally and impartially, for being subject to pressures, as evidenced by the briefing session, on February 29, and for the “second” time, when the regime’s delegation was prevented from explaining its point of view, and some staff of the technical secretariat are “part of the campaign” of Western countries against Syria.

He added that the regime had submitted more than 200 letters concerning the “terrorists'” attempts to “fabricate” incidents of using toxic materials as weapons to accuse the Syrian government of them, which were ignored by the organisation.

On the other hand, the technical secretariat based its stance on what Syria and other countries said, about the possession and use of chemical weapons by “terrorists” in Syria, and this “contradiction and duplicity” calls for astonishment and condemnation, according to Atieh.

Atieh posed a question in the statement, about the visits of the investigative teams belonging to the technical secretariat to the sites of incidents, and answered that they had not visited the “alleged” sites at all.

Mekdad said in the same recorded video that the organisation had made its reports another tool to provide political coverage for the war waged by “terrorist organisations,” sponsored by a state known to the Syrian people for years.

Organisation’s response

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), during a conference with its member states in The Hague, Netherlands, on November 29, 2021, confirmed that the Syrian regime had not cooperated with it by not disclosing its complete stockpile of chemical weapons and not allowing the organisation’s inspectors to enter Syria.

Then Director-General of the organisation, Fernando Arias, stated that the regime would not regain its rights in the organisation until it fully discloses its stockpile of weapons and its manufacturing facilities.

The member states of the organisation had stripped the Syrian regime government of its voting rights in the global chemical weapons watchdog and canceled its privileges, after it became clear that it repeatedly used toxic gases in bombings during the war.

According to Arias, the regime has not yet completed any of the procedures required of it, emphasizing that its previous declarations about chemical weapons “cannot be considered accurate and complete.”

On September 7, 2023, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, told the United Nations Security Council that all efforts to hold consultations between the OPCW’s evaluation team and the Syrian authorities “had not succeeded,” and that the last of these consultations took place in February 2021.

She added that the information provided by the regime was contradictory, disparate, and contained gaps, and emphasized at the time the importance of its full cooperation with the technical secretariat of the organisation, to resolve all outstanding issues.

Investigation results

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, in all reports related to the investigation results using internationally banned chemical weapons, clarified the evidence it was based on to conclude the result.

The organisation relied on interviews with people who were present at the relevant places at the time of the attack, as well as analyzing samples and residues collected from the sites of the incidents, reviewing the symptoms reported by the victims and medical staff, examining images, including satellite images, and in-depth consultations with experts, in addition to topographic analysis of the concerned area and obtaining the gas dispersion method to confirm narratives from witnesses and victims.

All these tasks are carried out by the international investigation team (IIT), which is not considered a judicial body with the authority to determine individual criminal responsibility, and its only task is to establish facts.

In all the reports about the results of the investigation, it was explained that the team faced challenges, including not being able to access the site of the events in Syria, despite the requests made by the technical secretariat to the regime, and Syria’s commitment to cooperate with the secretariat under paragraph 7 of Article VII of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Regime’s condemnation

Deputy head of the Syrian National Democratic Bloc, Ali al-Ahmad Bek, told Enab Baladi that it is obvious that the regime would vigorously defend itself in the chemical weapons file because judicial condemnation entails accountability, and the lack of accountability may encourage other countries to use the internationally banned weapon, especially since Syria is a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The regime’s condemnation affects its political position, in terms of its rehabilitation, and attempts by some countries to normalize relations with it.

And the international condemnation of this file differs greatly from any other file because the countries that think about establishing a relationship with a regime that has committed war crimes (use of chemical weapons) have a legal, political, and ethical responsibility, not to forget its allies Russia and Iran, according to Ali Bek.

Both Russia and Iran support the regime’s narrative, rejecting the organisation’s investigation results holding it responsible for using chemical weapons against civilians in Syria.

Lawyer and international law specialist, Mohammad Qanso, believes that the regime’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Prohibition Convention, without being acquitted after the August 2013 attack (the chemical attack on Ghouta), and its claim to have destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons, which was followed by similar attacks, especially in 2017 (Khan Sheikhoun), carries legal consequences.

Therefore, its non-compliance with regard to the prohibition of using this type of weapons, and its claim to have destroyed all its stockpile, which it did not do, leads to international trials, according to Qanso.

222 Attacks

A report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) in November 2020, recorded 222 chemical attacks in Syria since the first documented use of chemical weapons in the network’s database, from December 2012 until November 30, 2020.

217 of the total chemical attacks were carried out by Syrian regime forces, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,510 people, distributed as 1,409 civilians, including 205 children and 260 females (adults), as well as 94 opposition armed fighters, and seven prisoners from the regime forces who were in the detention of the armed opposition.

On September 27, 2013, the United Nations Security Council issued resolution number “2118”, endorsing the executive council’s decision of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which included special measures to expedite the dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons program and subjecting it to strict investigation.

Resolution number “2118” referred in paragraph 21 to measures that would be imposed under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter in case the Syrian regime does not comply with this resolution. In addition, Article 4 requested that the regime in Syria not use, develop, produce, or otherwise acquire, stockpile, or retain chemical weapons.

In Article 5 of the resolution, the parties to the conflict in Syria were required not to use chemical weapons, while Article 15 of the resolution included the need to hold accountable individuals responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria.


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