Human Rights

UNSC Members Call for Investigation into Syrian Chlorine Gas Attacks

Members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday called for an investigation into allegations that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime had recently deployed chemical weapons against civilians and opposition elements, after members of the body received a closed-door briefing from a coordinator charged with removing portions of Assad’s vast stockpile of nonconventional weapons:

The 15-member organization was briefed behind closed doors by Sigrid Kaag, who coordinates a mission in Syria to oversee the removal of its chemical weapons stockpile by June 30.

Members “expressed concern about alleged reports about the use of chlorine gas in some towns, which left people dead and injured, and called for an investigation of this incident,” said the ambassador of Nigeria, which holds the rotating presidency.

American and French officials had confirmed in recent days that they had “indications” that Syrian forces targeted rebel groups with chlorine gas, and video evidence seemed to document that chlorine canisters had been dropped from helicopters.

The scenario was widely read as calling into question the wisdom of an international deal – hammered out last September as an alternative to what seemed to be impending Western strikes against Assad’s military infrastructure – under which Syria would join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and turn over portions of its chemical weapons arsenal to be destroyed. The White House was criticized for thereby becoming de facto invested in the regime’s ability to facilitate the handover, but administration officials countered that the costs were worth putting chemical weapons beyond the reach of Syrian forces.

Reuters on Wednesday assessed that the chlorine attacks threaten to “expose a major loophole” in the deal, inasmuch as “chlorine gas… was never included on the list” of chemical agents that Damascus was expected to surrender. The battlefield deployment of chlorine gas is also banned under the CWC, and analysts suspect that the Syrian regime is conducting a coordinated chlorine bomb campaign:

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it was investigating reports that a chlorine canister bearing the name of the country’s biggest arms maker was shown in footage believed to document a gas attack in Syria this month.

Attacks this month in several areas in Syria share characteristics that have led analysts to believe that there is a coordinated chlorine bomb campaign, with growing evidence that it is the government side dropping the weapons.

If confirmed, the allegations might give rise to the suspicion that Assad cannot be trusted to uphold signed international obligations.

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