The United Nations released its report on the chemical weapons attack that killed masses of civilians in Syria on 21 August and while the conclusions are not definitive in assigning blame, the report suggests the complicity of the Syrian government. The report confirmed that the attack was conducted with chemical arms. The report also included details on the particulars of the munitions used and the exact direction from which two originated. The combination of these details leads to a strong suggestion that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s protestations—that anti-regime rebels, not his government—are likely misleading.
While many nations, including the US, have conducted their own investigations with results that appeared weeks ago, this investigation, commissioned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is the first independent, on-the-ground, scientific review of the attacks outside the Syrian capital.
Western policy makers are capitalizing on the report to support their own investigations, just as Russian diplomats continue to press for more proof. Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly I. Churkin, in questioning the implications of the report, stated, “We need not jump to any conclusions.”
“We understand some countries did not accept on faith that the samples of blood and hair that the United States received from people affected by the August 21 attack contained sarin,” US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power said while pointing out that the UN probe came to the same conclusion. The statement of the British ambassador to the UN, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, said that the report erased all remaining doubts that Damascus initiated the attacks. Alexis Lamek, France’s deputy envoy to the UN echoed the remarks, pointing to the weapons’ directionality as using, “great precision,” by the Asad regime.
The Secretary General said, “The report makes for chilling reading… The findings are beyond doubt and beyond the pale. This is a war crime.” He skirted assigning blame and instead conveyed his hope that the attacks themselves would prompt a new diplomatic decision at the UN to resolve the Syria conflict.
By now, much of the political turmoil over the attacks, how best to respond and the deal struck for Syria to turn over chemical weapons stores has already been played out in Act I of the saga. Syria has so far made no response to the UN results. Damascus officially agreed to join the international convention on banning chemical weapons, and has agreed to plans for the US and Russia to withdraw the weapons as identified by the middle of 2014.
The final conclusion of Monday’s report is that, “chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale,” citing the large quantity of evidence removed from the location, “samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used.”
The report further details the tactics used in the attack, such as taking advantage of temperatures that day to ensure the sarin gas would stay closer to the ground where people would be most likely to shelter. UN inspectors were even fired upon just days after the attack, while collecting the samples that would support the report’s conclusions, as reported in this broadcast from 26 August.