World Must React to Chemical Attacks: UN Human Rights Chief

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy
High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

Reports suggest that another deadly chemical attack may have been carried out in Syria on Saturday in the town of Douma.

“This highlights the impotence of the international response to earlier attacks alleged to have been carried out in Syria,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Monday.

“After decades when we thought we had successfully outlawed the use of chemical and biological weapons, the world is sitting idly by while their use is becoming normalized in Syria,” Zeid said. He added that this collective shrug to yet another possible use of one of the most ghastly weapons ever devised by man is incredibly dangerous.

The prohibition on the use of chemical weapons is not only absolute, it has also been fully supported by virtually every country everywhere: a total of 192 States have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in April 1997, making it one of the most universally subscribed to Conventions in existence.

States that ratified the Convention, including Syria, which was one of the last States to do so on 14 September 2013, solemnly undertook “never under any circumstances:

(a) To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;

(b) To use chemical weapons;

(c) To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;

(d) To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.”

Nevertheless, chemical weapons are believed to have been employed by diverse parties to the conflict in Syria on at least 35 separate occasions since the beginning of 2013.

Weapons of mass destruction, such as those utilized in Syria, have a devastating impact on the right to life, and cause grotesque pain and suffering.

“And the world’s response?” Zeid said. “Empty words, feeble condemnations, and a Security Council paralyzed by the use of the veto. The world – and in particular the veto-wielding States on the Security Council — need to wake up, and wake up fast, to the irreparable damage that is being done to one of the most important planks of global arms control and prevention of human suffering.”

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