Berlin, 20th of August 2015
Two years ago today, the eastern suburbs of Damascus – also known as the Ghoutas-were attacked with chemical weapons. Around 1300 people died when in the early morning the neighborhoods of Hammuriyah, Hirista, Irbin, Sebqa, Kafr Batna, Ayn Tarma, Jobar and Zamalka were hit by ground-to-ground missiles containing sarin gas.
The Ghoutas massacre follows an unfortunate tradition. On March 16, 1988 Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime used poison gas against the Kurdish population. Over 5000 people died in the city of Halabja alone.
The German-Iraqi nonprofit WADI e.V has been helping survivors of the gas attack in Halabja through multiple projects over the last twenty years. Now WADI is working closely with various Syrian organizations to demand that the people of the Ghouta areas finally get protection and that those responsible for these attacks are held accountable.
The Poor Man’s Atomic Bomb
Sarin gas and other chemical weapons are often called the ‘poor man’s atomic bomb’. This weapon of mass destruction can be easily produced, stored, moved onto warheads and deployed. This class of weapons is highly effective at terrorizing local inhabitants. However the term ‘poor man’s atomic bomb’ is misleading. Even “poor” governments such as that of Bashir al Assad in Syria need “rich” allies who support them in the chemical upgrading process and condone the usage of such weapons. As before in Iraq, in Syria, European companies supply the state’s chemical gas program with raw material and know how. Although there has never been any doubt either about the motivation of the Syrian Baath state or about the deplorable treatment of the civilian population. When raw materials are sold to a country that has no problems crushing its own people with tanks, a seller can no longer claim ‘lack of knowledge’ when those very same raw materials end up used to produce chemical weapons.
U.S. President Barak Obama defined the use of chemical weapons as a ‘red line’ that should not be crossed, without engendering dire consequences. A few days later, the area of Ghoutas was attacked. The perpetrator of the attacks and the usage of chemical weapons were both questioned by world media, although the Assad regime has been stockpiling sarin gas for years with the intent of using it against their own population. Following the attacks a voluntary disarmament of chemical weapons program was agreed to by the Assad regime, monitored by the United Nations OPCW an agreement that was neither coercive nor effective. This made one thing clear: the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population will continue to go unpunished.
Impunity – An Invitation to Murder
The lack of punishment that followed the chemical mass murder of the Ghouta areas can be seen as an invitation to continue, unchecked. While the Syrian government was giving up a part of its chemical weapons cache to be destroyed, the Syrian Air Force and artillery units were dropping chlorine bombs, chlorine shells and grenades on densely populated civilian areas. Chlorine was not covered under the chemical weapons agreement as it has many civilian uses. After a while the Assad regime no longer attempted to hide its stockpile of sarin gas through the use of chlorine based weapons. They began once again bombing civilian populations with sarin gas. Two years after the attack on the Ghouta areas everything is back as it once was. The Syrian army and its allied militias use chemical weapons with impunity daily. Nothing has been done against this situation. No teams of doctors were sent to save people who were poisoned. No emergency help was sent to the areas hit with barrel bombs and chemical weapons. No Syrian general has been held responsible for committing these war crimes. This lack of punishment has resulted essentially in a free for all. As long as the United Stated and Europe see Assad as the ‘least evil’, his soldiers will continue.
Two years on in the Ghouta areas nothing has improved. In the eastern suburbs of Damascus: Syrian troops and pro-Iranian Hezbollah militias hit civilian areas with artillery daily. Survivors of the gas attacks have never received medical assistance, and their plight has been ignored by the world. A memorial of shame for Europe and the United States who have failed to put an end to the violence of the Syrian regime. The people of the Ghouta areas cannot wait for another year, they are starved, shot at, and harassed daily.
The Political Mission: End the Impunity
Neither the use of chemical weapons, nor the supply of materials, raw materials and know-how should remain unpunished. When the worse thing that happens to a regime that uses chemical weapons on its people is a breach of foreign trade relations, it encourages those responsible to continue.
People in the Ghouta area urgently need help and protection. Instead they are suffering from a new blockade by the regime – designed to limit their access to food- resulting in starvation. They are also targeted with terrifying barrel bombs. Just last week over 100 people were killed by such an attack.
On the second anniversary of the attack in Syria, WADI is calling for support for the numerous activities initiated by Syrian organizations. All over the world memorial services will be held. In Germany they will take place in Berlin, Köln, and Darmstadt on August 21, 2015.
The ‘Syria Campaign’ together with the group ‘Breathless’ has started to call for the “Clear the Sky” campaign, demanding a no fly zone over Syria.