NEW YORK (April 10, 2018) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the civilian population of the last rebel-held city, Douma, in eastern Ghouta on April 7. In a conversation with HRF, the chairman of volunteer rescue group the White Helmets confirmed that at least 43 people, including 12 children, suffocated to death after suffering convulsions and foaming of the mouth — symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve or mixed nerve and chlorine gas. Another 27 people died from bombardment during the same attack.
“Using chemical weapons against civilians is a war crime, plain and simple. In 2013, the international community reacted with the requisite shock and horror after the first chemical attack in Syria, but at the end of the day, not enough was done to bring an end to the violence. Since then, Assad has used chemical weapons repeatedly, with impunity. The democratic world has a responsibility to protect Syrians. Action is necessary, urgent, and warranted,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen.
The “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) principle, first established in 2005, compels the international community to use diplomatic, legal, economic, and, as a last resort, military action to stop mass atrocities and protect the citizens of any nation when they suffer mass atrocities.
Last year, on April 4, approximately 91 people were killed after either Syrian or Russian warplanes conducted airstrikes against rebel-held positions with a toxic agent believed to be sarin or chlorine. The 2017 chemical attack was the largest and deadliest in Syria since August 2013, when more than 1,000 people were killed with sarin in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta by Assad’s forces. The 2013 attack resulted in a tripartite agreement between the U.N., the United States, and Russia that purportedly led to the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons, though experts indicated that only a small fraction of Syria’s arsenal was affected. Syria was also forced to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.
On February 24, the U.N. Security Council demanded a 30-day ceasefire in the country’s eastern Ghouta region, where almost 400,000 people have lived under the siege since 2013. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss this latest chemical attack.
“Five years have passed since the first chemical attack on the Syrian people by the Assad regime. It is high time that the international community take action to stop this massacre from continuing,” said White Helmets chairman, Raed Al Saleh, in a phone call with HRF.
In 2016, the International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, a group of experts established in 2011 by the U.N. Human Rights Council, published a report concluding that the Assad regime has committed “crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, and other inhuman acts.”
“Russia and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are indifferent to the suffering of the Syrian people and will continue to use their veto power to block efforts to invoke the international legal doctrine of R2P. The world must call out Xi Jinping’s negligence and Vladimir Putin’s complicity, both of which enable Bashar al-Assad’s brutality,” Halvorssen said.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.