Opinions and Legal Insights

7 October 2020 – NGOs file criminal complaint over use of chemical weapons by Syrian government

Syria. Photo: scrapetv.com via Bing (CC).
Syria. Photo: scrapetv.com via Bing (CC).

NGOs file criminal complaint to German Federal Public Prosecutor on behalf of Syrian chemical weapons attack victims: On Monday, a group of NGOs submitted a criminal complaint to the German Federal Public Prosecutor over the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. This unprecedented step on the road to accountability for Syrian crimes, was a culmination of a comprehensive two-year investigation by the Justice Initiative, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the Syrian Archive into two major incidents of chemical weapon attacks in the Syrian civil war to date – the use of sarin gas in Eastern Ghouta in 2013, which left more than 1,500 people dead, and the attack on the village of Khan Sheikhun in 2017, which killed around 100 people.

“Our years-long investigation on behalf of victims compiles extensive evidence indicating that senior Syrian government officials are responsible for the Eastern Ghouta and Khan Shaykun sarin attacks as part of a widespread and deliberate pattern of targeting opposition-held areas with chemical weapons since 2011,” said Hadi al Khatib, founder of the Syrian Archive. “Now it is the time for competent European prosecutors to jointly investigate Syria’s chemical weapons program and issue arrest warrants for the Syrian officials responsible,” added al Khatib calling for international support to advance accountability efforts.

The complaint was filed to the international war crimes unit in Karlsruhe under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of serious crimes in national courts even if they happened elsewhere and neither the victims nor perpetrators are nationals of the investigating country. The filing consists of extensive evidence on the chemical weapons attacks in the form of documents, UN and open source investigative data, and testimonies from regime defectors and witnesses now living in Germany.

Earlier this year, the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), condemned the use of banned sarin and chlorine munitions by the Syrian government, and accused the government of having covert supplies of sarin gas. (The Guardian, OSJI)

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