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Syrian Organizations and Human Rights Advocates Call for the Establishment of an Exceptional Chemical Weapons Tribunal to Prosecute Perpetrators of Chemical Weapons Use

Statement of the demand for the establishment of an exceptional chemical weapons court

On November 30, Syrian civil society groups, lawyers, and human rights defenders launched a call for the establishment of an exceptional chemical weapons tribunal to hold perpetrators accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond.

The White Helmets has supported this process to establish an exceptional chemical weapons tribunal since its inception. Having responded to over 60 chemical weapons attacks since 2013, our volunteers have been both witnesses and survivors of chemical attacks. As first responders to these crimes, the White Helmets contributed significantly to documenting and sharing evidence, including samples, photographic materials, and testimonies with international bodies and relevant UN agencies including, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (“OPCW”) and the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (“IIIM”).

However, despite ample evidence gathered by international agencies on the use of chemical weapons on an unprecedented scale in Syria, including those gathered by the OPCW and the IIIM, the perpetrators remain unpunished.

In Syria, recourse to the International Criminal Court (“ICC”), the usual avenue that can look into such crimes, was blocked by a double veto in the UN Security Council in 2014, and calls for accountability by victims and the international community, including in UN Security Council resolutions 2118, 2209, 2235, 2314, 2319, and UN General Assembly resolutions 68/182, 70/41, 71/69, 72/43, 73/45, 73/182, 74/40, 74/169, 75/193, 76/29 and 76/228, remain unanswered.

This deadlock and continued impunity for chemical attacks undermines the absolute prohibition of chemical weapons and the deterrent effect of accountability, and makes the case for an international tribunal on chemical weapons.

Endorsed by over 15 organizations, the public call from Syrian groups follows almost two years of international expert consultations and multilateral and bilateral discussions with States, and is based on in-depth analysis of legal, political and technical considerations.

The proposed exceptional tribunal will consider cases for all uses of chemical weapons, for Syria and for any case that falls outside of the International Criminal Court, due to the political deadlock that currently prevents the court from acting. The proposed tribunal would be complimentary to existing international bodies, including the ICC and would be structured such that it only becomes operational when ICC jurisdiction is blocked.

This public call for accountability is a call from the victims of chemical attacks, who suffered the horrific consequences of CW, and their families. The White Helmets supports this call to protect the norm on the prohibition of chemical weapons and bring those responsible to account for their crimes. Together, for a world free of chemical weapons.

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