Syria faces sanctions over chemical attacks on civilians

The UN Security Council is debating whether to impose sanctions on the Syrian regime following an inquiry that found at least two instances of its involvement in chemical attacks on civilians.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A civilian breathes through an oxygen mask at al-Quds hospital, after chlorine bombs were dropped on Aleppo, Syria, early August 11, 2016.

The UN Security Council said it has found the Syrian regime was linked to at least two chlorine gas attacks on civilians, as it began discussing whether to impose sanctions on people or entities that used chemical weapons in Syria.

Following a year-long inquiry, the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) last week published a report that found regime forces had carried out at least two chemical attacks, one in 2014 and one in 2015. 

“In the case of Talmanes, 21 of April 2014 and Sarmin, 16 of March 2015, the panel concluded that Syrian Arab Armed Forces, in particular the air force, were responsible for the attack which released toxic substances," Virginia Gamba, Head of UN and OPCW inquiry said.

Britain and France called on the UN to impose sanctions on the Syrian regime for carrying out chemical attacks, calling the actions “a war crime” against civilians.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the council will be “looking at the imposition of sanctions and some form of accountability within international legal mechanisms.”

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari rejected the findings, saying there was no physical evidence to support the conclusions.

"These conclusions lack any physical evidence, whether by samples or attested medical reports that chlorine was used," he said.

Gamba said the UN had sufficient information to reach a conclusion on regime involvement in the chemical attacks. The inquiry also concluded that DAESH used sulfur mustard gas.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said his country has “very serious questions" on the UN-led investigation, and is not ready to accept its findings.

"There are a number of questions which have to be clarified before we accept all the findings of the report,"  he said.  

A woman, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathes through an oxygen mask inside a field hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama April 12, 2014.

Previous reports from OPCW had concluded that toxic gases have been used as weapons in Syria’s five-year war, but stopped short of identifying the perpetrators.

The panel of inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), for the first time pointed the finger of blame at the Assad regime for chemical weapons use after years of denial from Damascus.

Another young victim of a gas attack, receives treatment inside a makeshift hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama May 22, 2014.

The Syrian regime agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Moscow and Washington. The Security Council backed that deal with a resolution that said in the event of non-compliance, "including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone" in Syria, it would impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

Chapter 7 deals with sanctions and authorization of military force by the Security Council. The body would need to adopt another resolution to impose targeted sanctions - a travel ban and asset freeze - on people or entities linked to the attacks.

TRTWorld and agencies