OPCW blames Bachar al-Asad for chemical attacks

The organization has released a report proving that the Syrian government used sarin gas and chlorine against civilians
Syrian President Bachar Al-Asad

 -   Syrian President Bachar Al-Asad

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has released the first report blaming Bachar al-Asad for the sarin gas and chlorine attacks on civilians in Syria.

The team of investigators focused on the incidents in Latamné (in Syria's Hama province) on 24, 25 and 30 March 2017. “The investigation and analysis included a thorough review of all the information obtained,” the report states. This document is based on interviews with persons who were present at the relevant locations at the time of the incidents, analysis of samples and remains collected at the incident sites, review of the symptomatology of the victims and medical personnel, examination of images, including satellite images, and extensive expert consultation.

Sede de la OPCW (Organización para la Prohibición de las Armas Químicas) en La Haya
AFP/ JOHN THYS - OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) headquarters in The Hague

The investigation has been the result of the new powers granted to OPCW by a UN resolution in 2018, when they established the agency's power to apportion blame for chemical weapons attacks. This Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) was created as an alternative solution to counter Russia, the Syrian Government's political ally. Moscow, as a member of the UN Security Council, systematically blocked independent investigations into these attacks.

The report reached three conclusions: on 24 March 2017, a military plane belonging to the Syrian Air Force dropped a sarin-containing bomb in the south of Latamné , affecting 16 people; on 25 March, a Syrian Air Force helicopter dropped a device, which on falling released chlorine in Latamné hospital, affecting at least 30 people. Finally, on 30 March, another Syrian plane dropped a sarin bomb in the same area of Latamné, affecting 60 people.

“The IIT concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the perpetrators of the use of sarin as a chemical weapon in Latamné on 24 and 30 March 2017 and the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon on 25 March were individuals belonging to the Syrian Air Force,” said IIT coordinator Santiago Oñate-Laborde in a statement.

Fotografía de archivo que muestra a una niña siria que sostiene una máscara de oxígeno sobre el rostro de un bebé en un hospital improvisado tras un ataque con en Ghouta, en las afueras de Damasco, el 22 de enero de 2018
AFP/ HASAN MOHAMED - Archive photograph showing a Syrian girl holding an oxygen mask over a baby's face in a makeshift hospital after an attack in Ghouta, near Damascus, in January 2018

An investigation by the Institute for Global Public Policy in Berlin, cited by The Guardian, states that approximately 98% of the attacks were carried out by the Al-Asad regime, with Daesh responsible for the rest. According to this research, Al-Asad's intensive use of improvised chlorine bombs is a crucial part of the regime's military strategy.

The Al-Asad regime has always denied any involvement in chemical attacks and claims to have surrendered all its stockpiles following a deal struck in 2019.

Prior to this report, the Joint OPCW-UN Investigation Mechanism (JIM) concluded that Syrian forces used sarin gas and chlorine in several of their attacks, something denied by the Al-Asad government, which accused Daesh of using mustard gas.

Fernando Arias, director general de la Organización para la Prohibición de las Armas Químicas (OPAQ)
PHOTO/AP - Fernando Arias, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

OPCW Director General Fernando Arias explained in a statement that “the ITT is not a judicial or quasi-judicial body with the authority to assign criminal responsibility or to determine findings of violations of the [chemical weapons] convention,” leaving it up to the United Nations to “adopt measures that may be considered appropriate and necessary”.

Researchers from the same organization have announced that another report is expected to be published in the coming months regarding the attacks that left some 40 people dead in April 2018 because of the use of chlorine.