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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

World must react to chemical attacks, or face dire consequences – Zeid

Syria chemical attacks

09 April 2018

GENEVA (9 April 2018) – Reports suggesting yet another deadly chemical attack may have been carried out in Syria on Saturday in the town of Douma highlight 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. “This collective shrug to yet another possible use of one of the most ghastly weapons ever devised by man is incredibly dangerous.”

“We have seen how the use of weapons that are inherently indiscriminate in nature can destroy human life on a catastrophic scale. The past successes in the effort to abolish chemical weapons, and dismantle stockpiles wherever they exist, are being wantonly squandered by ineffectual, or deliberately obstructive, global leadership. A number of very powerful states are directly involved in the conflict in Syria, and yet they have completely failed to halt this ominous regression towards a chemical weapons free-for-all. The consequences could be dire for all of us in the coming decades.”

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.

“Verbal condemnation is clearly grossly insufficient, and the abject failure to even properly investigate each and every allegation of chemical attacks by all sides further encourages the use of such despicable weapons and undermines the legitimacy of the international legal order,” Zeid said. “The parties to the conflict and their supporters, including various extremist groups, have pushed the door wide open to the use of these awful weapons. As there has been zero accountability for past crimes, they keep on pushing -- keep on testing the global lack of resolve.”

Weapons of mass destruction, such as those utilized in Syria today, 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.”


*In September 2017, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic summarized 33 separate incidents where it had found use of chemical weapons. Since then there have been several additional suspected chemical attacks. For more details see:

For media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / [email protected]) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / [email protected]) or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]).

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human

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