Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Finally, somebody says why the August 21 sarin gas attack in Syria is a war crime

For the first time since President Obama started threatening to bomb Syria over chemical weapons attacks, this is the first thing I've seen that actually says why Syria using chemical weapons inside Syria is a crime under international law (not every bad act is).

From UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's statement yesterday: "The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons and believes that this act is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare and other relevant rules of customary international law."

In all the articles I've read about the Syria crisis, this is the first time I've seen that actually spelled out. Syria was not a signatory at the time of the August 21 attack to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the 1990s agreement of which all but a few countries are part. Egypt is also not a signatory. Israel signed the convention but has never ratified it.

The seven non-member states listed as of this writing at the website of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body that administers the CWC, also include Angola, Myanmar/Burma (signed but not ratified), North Korea, South Sudan and Syria. Syria is currently in the process of joining the CWC as part of the diplomatic deal with the Russians that defused the war crisis for the moment.

Robert Fisk writes in There is something deeply cynical about this chemical weapons ‘timetable’ The Independent 09/15/2013:

The world, I suspect, is not totally convinced that the regime was responsible for using chemical weapons in Ghouta on 21 August – though I bet the Russians know who did. Now we've got rebels chopping off prisoners' heads, I'm not sure what scruples they'd have about using sarin. But it was interesting to see the Syrian government agreeing to put their chemical weapons in international hands – I couldn't help noticing that they didn't demand the same of the insurgents... (ellipsis in original)
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