Advocacy update

Eight Years After Chemical Weapons Attacks at Ghouta, Investigations Have Been Opened in Three European Countries

Date
August 21, 2021
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STOCKHOLM, PARIS, LONDON—On the eighth anniversary of the Syrian government’s alleged August 2013 chemical weapons attacks on townships surrounding Damascus, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, Syrian Archive, Civil Rights Defenders, and the Open Society Justice Initiative once again welcome the opening of criminal investigations by judicial authorities in Germany, France, and Sweden. These human rights organizations filed criminal complaints in these countries over two years, from 2020 to 2021, on behalf of and alongside survivors of the Ghouta sarin attacks. All three countries have opened investigations in recent months, and French and Swedish investigating judges have already heard testimony from victim witnesses.

These are the largest chemical weapons attacks that have taken place anywhere in the last three decades, and resulted in mass casualties, including hundreds of children. In addition to conclusions by the UN and several governments that the attacks were planned and carried out by the Syrian government, subsequent investigations have shown that Syria’s chemical weapons program and chemical attacks are run with involvement of President Bashar al-Assad and other senior government officials.

“We continue to call on states to combine their investigations so that justice can be served as quickly as possible,” said Hadi Al Khatib, founder and executive director of Syrian Archive. “Judicial authorities should aim to make the most of the evidence gathered to build cases against the most senior Syrian government officials responsible for these attacks—including Bashar al-Assad himself.”

Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression President Mazen Darwish added: “It is crucial that these three countries pursue criminal trials wherever possible, using either universal jurisdiction or extraterritorial jurisdiction, so that these multiple jurisdictions can play a complementary role in ensuring justice for these atrocity crimes. Other countries must also facilitate and support their efforts.”

“Eight years after this incident of large-scale chemical warfare against innocent civilians, Bashar al-Assad and the members of his government who were responsible have still not been held accountable,” said Steve Kostas, senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. “And as long as this impunity continues, the world will never be safe from these heinous weapons of mass atrocity.”

“Criminal proceedings in international tribunals and domestic jurisdictions are vital as a measure of last resort to thwart impunity for grave international crimes. That is why we welcome the decision by the Swedish, French and German authorities to open investigations into these atrocious acts,” said Aida Samani, legal adviser at Civil Rights Defenders.

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