The world reacts to chemical attack in Syria as civilians continue to suffer
On 4 April, a chemical gas attack in Khan Shaykhun, a town in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, killed more than 80 civilians. Shortly thereafter, images of victims showing symptoms associated with exposure to nerve gas, namely suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils, and involuntary defecation, as reported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), led UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-Soo to comment that, if confirmed, this could constitute the worst chemical attack in Syria since the war began in 2011.
The news sparked strong reactions by throughout the international community, which gathered in the UN Security Council Chamber on 5 April to discuss which steps to take next. At the same time, the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) officially announced that the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mission (JIM) had started to gather and analyze information from all available sources to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals in the country. At first, all Member States cohesively placed blame for the attack on Syrian government forces, expressing unanimous outrage for what was called “a new low, even for the barbaric Assad regime” by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
Following these statements and appalled by the deadly consequences of the latest chemical attack, the international community was quick to react in the emergency session of the UN Security Council on 5 April. As the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned, when the international community proves unable to act collectively, states are compelled to “take their own action”. Shortly after her statement, the United States publicly announced that 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired at Al Shayrat airfield in Syria, from where the planes carrying the alleged chemical weapons are said to have been launched. The unilateral response implemented by the US represents an unprecedented step in its engagement in the Syrian civil war.
Many Member States have hailed the US response as the end of “an era of impunity” for the Syrian government, while others have claimed that Syria is a victim of aggression, describing the recent US attack on the Shayrat military airbase as a “blatant aggression” against a sovereign state.
In this regard, many issues have recently been raised concerning the legality of the US attack, as well as why this reaction has been elicited now in comparison to other previous uses of deadly chemical weapons throughout the conflict. However, what is indisputable is that after over six years, the conflict in Syria has already claimed the lives of more than 450,000 people, internally displaced over 6.3 million civilians, and forced more than 5 million Syrians to flee their country as refugees. Furthermore, human rights groups continue to report on the use of banned weapons in areas of the country where civilians are still besieged. This is the time to call on all parties to uphold their RtoP populations from horrific atrocities. This includes calling on the UN Security Council to overcome infighting and internal divisions to allow legal and timely responses to the crises and refraining from exercising veto powers in situations of atrocity crimes.
The above is an edited excerpt from a new blog post written by Francesca Cocomero for the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP). To read the full blog post, please click here.
Source of above photo: Reuters via BBC News
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