UN secretary general describes Syrian gas attack as ‘war crime’

Weapons inspectors find ‘clear and convincing evidence’ of sarin gas attack but assign no blame for chemical weapons use

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon prepares to speak to the media about the conclusion of the UN inspectors’ report on chemical weapons use in Syria. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon prepares to speak to the media about the conclusion of the UN inspectors’ report on chemical weapons use in Syria. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Tue, Sep 17, 2013, 01:04


United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon has described a chemical weapons attack in Syria last month as a “war crime” and the “most significant confirmed use” of such weapons since Saddam Hussein gassed Iraqi Kurds in 1988.

Mr Ban said the August 21st attack on a Damascus suburb was a “despicable crime” as a UN inspectors’ report published yesterday found “clear and convincing evidence” that sarin gas was used. The report indicated that 85 per cent of blood samples taken by inspectors tested positive for the gas. The findings were “beyond doubt and beyond the pale”, said Mr Ban at the UN after publication of the report, This is a war crime.

The inspectors concluded that chemical weapons have been used against civilians, including children, on “a relatively large scale”.

“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used,” they wrote.


Evidence of exposure

The inspectors based their conclusions on sarin-contaminated soil found at the sites of the attacks in the Damascus suburbs, more than 50 interviews with survivors and healthcare workers, signs of exposure in survivors and blood and urine samples from those exposed to the gas.

The report indicated that the finding “leaves us with the deepest concern”.

The UN inspectors were not obliged to assign blame for the attack. They delivered the report to Mr Ban last Sunday and presented it to the UN security council yesterday.

Survivors reported that following a shelling attack they quickly experienced shortness of breath, disorientation, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and general weakness, said Mr Ban.

“Many eventually lost consciousness. First responders described seeing a large number of individuals lying on the ground, many of them unconscious.”

The US blames forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for the attack. Washington has said that more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, were killed. This would make it the most devastating incident in Syria’s 30-month-old conflict.


‘Heavy gas’

Damascus and her ally Russia blame Syrian insurgents.

The UN report states that falling temperatures on the morning of the August 21st attack may have increased the number of victims because “the heavy gas can stay close to the ground and penetrate into lower levels of buildings . . . where many people were seeking shelter”.

Mr Ban said the UN had confirmed “unequivocally and objectively” that chemical weapons had been used in Syria.

“This is a war crime and a grave violation of the 1925 protocol and other rules of customary international law,” said Mr Ban.

“I trust all can join me in condemning this despicable crime. The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable and to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.”

The US is seeking a UN resolution around a deal agreed with Russia on a plan to disarm Syria of chemical weapons.