Syria and accountability

Like OPCW inspector in the field
Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 13:58

The news of a suspected chemical weapons attack in a small Syrian town has shocked many.

According to a monitoring group - the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - 72 people, were killed including 20 children.

Early on the scene were photographers from the Agence France Presse. They described their experience.

“Mohamed: When I get to the hospital, a foul smell hangs over the place. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Children are lying on beds and medics are frantically trying to save them. It’s a small hospital in Maaret al-Numan, where I live, about 15 kilometers from Khan Sheikhun where the attack took place. They are putting oxygen masks on the children. It’s mayhem -- the children crying, the medics barking orders. I decide to focus on the children. To convey just how horrendous this crime is.”

And as a crime, there is always some expectation of justice and of holding people accountable for acts like this.

But this is Syria. And accountability is a problem, even now, six years into the war.

Recently Justice Hub featured the Dutch minster of foreign affairs talking about a new UN-backed justice mechanism. He acknowledged the problem.

“The use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, forced evacuations, unlawful executions, abductions and indiscriminate violence: it all continues to this day, supported by a culture of impunity.”

And said

“I want to see the perpetrators of the most serious crimes brought here to The Hague, to face justice.”

Justice is what one of the activists Justice Hub has featured, who collects evidence, is also seeking.

“If you kill somebody, you must be put on trial. But it’s difficult to do this, with this regime.”

And our regular commentator, Mark Kersten, hit the nail on the head when he wrote.

“An impressive array of commissions, human rights groups, and private organisations have done a remarkable job gathering evidence that might, one day, be used to bring perpetrators of mass atrocities in Syria to account. But the sad truth is there has been no real prospect for criminal accountability in the country.”

But maybe, when it comes to chemical weapons, maybe that will mean that there will be – this time – a real effort to find out and make accountable those responsible.

The body whose job it is to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles, and in Syria’s case to find out who was responsible is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It has been very active in Syria. And even won a Nobel prize for its work. But, will they get access?

As British-based expert citizen investigative journalist Eliot Higgins notes this latest attack – although it may be the largest since 2013, isn’t isolated

So, accountability for this latest atrocity may still be some time coming. 


Image: OPCW/Flickr


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