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Human Rights Abuses in Syria including CW



It is incontrovertible that human rights abuses against civilians in Syria have been perpetrated by both Assad and radical elements of the rebel forces.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria set up by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 have said that war crimes have been committed by both sides over the last two years but the majority of incidents that have been reported to them have been by victims of gross violations of their human rights perpetrated by the Syrian government or their allied ‘ghost’ militias (Shabiha).

FIDH findings were that war crimes on both sides

Even as early as January this year, the Tunisan, Souhayr Belhassen, female President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) based in Paris has called for UN action to stop these human rights violations and to bring those responsible to justice via the International Criminal Court (ICC). FIDH, established over 90 years ago, is the peak international body for human rights with over 178 member organizations in 100 countries. FIDH has a consultative status before the United Nations. FIDH sends in fact finders into the affected areas, assists victims of human rights abuse by referring their cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, in the Netherlands or regional human rights courts and uses its influence to mobilize the international community to uphold the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She said ““Peace in Syria can only be effective if those most responsible for the most serious crimes -whatever their affiliation- face justice. The future of Syria can only be built on a strong fight against impunity” [1]

What has taken the world community so long to implement this sensible recommendation? Why has President Obama been selective or dismissive in his assessment of the UN and FIDH findings and recommendations? Moreover, why has the US Administration not mentioned, disregarded, or failed to give the same ‘red line’ ultimatums to the rebels in the light of highly probative independent findings in Turkey and Syria, that Al-Nusra Front (a significant player in the rebel opposition camp)have access to Sarin gas?

Turkish government/UN findings sarin gas in hands of some extremists within rebel forces

In May this year 12 Syrian militants from Al-Nusra were arrested in Isatmbul, and three southern provinces in Turkey on terrorism charges for possession of sarin gas cylinders. [2]

The latter report also suggested that the rebels had used chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal Northern Aleppo in March/April 2013 which killed at least 27 people. UN inspectors were apparently invited at the time to investigate. In a BBC article on 6 May 2013, “Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said” [3]

Carla Del Ponte, prominent member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in relation to the March/April 2013 use of sarin gas said that the first use of chemical weapons in Syria that the Commission investigated, appeared to have been by the rebels:

“Our investigators have been interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals. According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got … they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition,”. … “Chemical weapons particularly nerving gas were used….used by opponents of the government, the rebels…we have no indication at all …that the Syrian government …have used chemical weapons…but special UN Commission need to investigate this

See Carla Del Ponte TV interviews wherein she says Sarin was used by rebels:



In a BBC article on 6 May 2013, “Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said” [6] ]

Carla Del Ponte is a well-respected lawyer and was a former Swiss Attorney General, prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). She would not make such statements lightly. It certainly casts reasonable doubt on US claims that only Assad’s regime has access to and used chemical weapons.

Chemical Weapons

There are a vast array of chemical weapons. Some are lethal and others like ‘tear gas’ are not.

“Tear gas comes in many forms: pepper spray (OC gas), CS gas, CR gas, CN gas (phenacyl chloride), nonivamide, bromoacetone, xylyl bromide, syn-propanethial-S-oxide (from onions), and Mace (a branded mixture).Lachrymatory agents are commonly used for riot control. Their use as chemical warfare agents is prohibited by various international treaties.”[7]

Most lethal chemical weapons have been now banned by most members of the international community (however, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons have not yet received the same universal condemnation and treatment).

“The most dangerous of these are

  1. nerve agents are organo-phosphates such as Tabun (GA), Sarin (GB), Soman (GD), Cyclosarin (GF) and V-series of nerve agents (VX) [ note VX has the texture and feel of motor oil, causes violent contractions of the muscles and then death by asphyxiation) , and
  2. vesicant (blister) agents which are formulations of sulphur mustard such as H, HT, and HD.

All are liquids at normal room temperature, but become gaseous when released”[8]

These chemical weapons are unitary weapons which are lethal chemical munitions which produce a toxic result in their existing state without having to be mixed with other chemicals.

Nerve agents work by chemically blocking an enzyme in the nervous system thus disrupting the mechanism by which nerves transfer messages to organs.

“Poisoning by a nerve agent leads to contraction of pupils, profuse salivation, convulsions, involuntary urination and defecation, and eventual death by asphyxiation as control is lost over respiratory muscles. Some nerve agents are readily vaporized or aerosolized and the primary portal of entry into the body is the respiratory system. Nerve agents can also be absorbed through the skin, requiring that those likely to be subjected to such agents wear a full body suit in addition to a respirator…. Survivors of nerve agent poisoning almost invariably suffer chronic neurological damage. This neurological damage can also lead to continuing psychiatric effects.” [9]

The majority of the chemical weapon stockpiles are of the unitary type and most of it is stored in one-ton bulk containers.

These are to be contrasted to binary munitions such as the US developed M687 which contain two, unmixed and isolated chemicals (e.g. methylphosphonyl difluoride (DF ) and isopropyl alcohol and amine OPA) which do not react to produce Sarin’s lethal effects until mixed. This usually happens just prior to battlefield use.) [10]

“Even at very low concentrations, sarin can be fatal because it is 500 times more toxic than cyanide. Death may follow in one minute after direct ingestion of a lethal dose unless antidotes, typically atropine and pralidoxime, are quickly administered…A person’s clothing can release sarin for about 30 minutes after it has come in contact with sarin gas, which can lead to exposure of other people…. People who absorb a non-lethal dose but do not receive immediate appropriate medical treatment may suffer permanent neurological damage. Sarin degrades after a period of several weeks to several months.” Because Sarin (GB) decomposes quickly to form non-toxic Phophonic acid (especially in a high pH environment), it is usually used militarily in a binary weapon and not in its pure form. [11]

Sarin Gas (GB) was developed by the Germans the 30’s in preparation for WWII but not used until Iraq (at the time it was an ally of the US) against Iran and then its own Kurdish population in the 80’s. It was also used by a Japanese militant sect in the Tokyo metro system in 1995. It was used again in Syria in March/April and August 2013. However other gases were used by the Germans during the war to exterminate Jews, Slavs and other opponents of the Nazi regime, and by the Japanese in Manchuria. [12]

Once used, there are some countermeasures and medicines that can assist a victim which include:

  1. Atropine which is often loaded in an auto-injector/Mark 1 NAAK/ATNAA and once in the blood stream clears the lungs (this drug is a poison but is fast acting, and
  2. 2-PAM chloride, reactivates the poisoned enzyme (which is safer than atropine but takes longer to act). [13]

In 1989, after the use by Iraq of chemical weapons, the Australia Group (so called because it was an initiative of Australia) was formed by most OECD countries, European Commission, EU, Ukraine and Argentina. “These countries agree to maintain export controls on a uniform list of 54 compounds, including several that are not prohibited for export under the Chemical Weapons Convention, but can be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons” [14]

1993: Convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction (the ‘CWC’, or the ‘Convention’) aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction (WMD: see UN Resolution 687) by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by States Parties and the safe destruction of such WMD and declaring information to and allowing inspection by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): [15]

In the 1990’s senior ranking al-Qaeda operative, Syrian born, Abu Musab Al Suri (aka known as Umar Abd al-Hakim and Mustafa Setmariam Nasar and Abu Rida al Suri) ran two of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist training camps in Afghanistan including Khalden and the notorious Darunta camp, where he developed and experimented with chemical weapons. Detainees at Guantanamo such as al Malki and Saed Khatem confirmed that al Qaeda had a chemical weapons capability as early as 1995 and in fact ran a two week training course on chemical poisons at the Darunta camp. (Unclassified Guantanamo reports leaked by Wikileaks) [16] Commission Report Chapter 4 and Global Security referencing of the Department of Homeland Security assessment that there was as early as 1993 some confidence to high confidence that al-Qaeda sought or had WMD capability. [17]

Al Qaeda’s experiments with chemical weapons is well documented, even CNN published a story in 2002 which they claimed to have acquired documents in the bombed out ruins of the Darunta camp in Nangarhar Afghanistan showing chemical formulas for sarin and a series of mud and stone buildings, to chemical testing. Most revealing of all were videotapes showing al Qaeda experiments poisoning dogs with chemical weapons. CNN had the video tapes watched by experts such as John Gilbert (CW specialist Science Applications International Corp) and David Kay ( UN weapons inspector in Iraq) who said they were horrified to see that al Qaeda had CW capability. “David Kay said he was convinced “above a reasonable doubt” that the gas on the tape is a nerve agent, possibly an improvised nerve agent or possibly Sarin.” [18]

Abu Musab Al Suri is also associated with various Al Qaeda and Salafist insurgents in Syria including Jammat e Jihal al Suri. [19]

In 2007 Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi/Dr Ibrahim/Abu Dua carried out a chlorine gas attack in Iraq. [20]

It is most likely that Abu Musab Al Suri and the chemical weapons expertise he has is now under the umbrella of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (Syria) which has now operationally merged with Jabhat al-Nusra.

Syria has never been a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and so has been developing, producing and stockpiling chemical weapons containing Sarin gas, mustard gas and VX gas for decades. However, they are a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Protocol(to the Hague Convention) for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare which has been ratified and is part of Syrian law. [21]

In any case, under customary international humanitarian law, the use of chemical is prohibited and is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 1998 in so far as international conflicts are concerned and is arguably relevant to civil wars (either directly as per Article 70 of the Lieber Instructions adopted in the American Civil War or by necessary implication that use of chemical weapons or any other weapons for that matter against civilians would be in breach of Article 8: 2) c) (i) and 2) e) (i) ). [22]

“Syria has an extensive chemical weapons program, and a variety of delivery methods: missiles, rockets, artillery shells, and air-dropped munitions. The country has been dependent on assistance in procuring important precursor chemicals and equipment from Russia, Egypt, West Germany, France, Iran, North Korea, and possibly other countries over a period of 20 years. Syria has been able to acquire an offensive chemical weapons capability that continues to be the regime’s strategic deterrent against Israel, and was rebuilding its chemical weapons capability in 2009, according to satellite images analysed by Jane’s Intelligence Review. Russia has delivered millions of protective masks to the Syrian military… The threat is clear and the consequences potentially a humanitarian disaster. Even if Syria’s chemical warfare agent production and storage facilities could be destroyed by air strikes, the downwind dispersal of the chemical agents or their combustion products could expose thousands of people to injury and death.” [23]

Conclusion and legal justification for justice

It is clear that it is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Syrian government alone has used chemical weapons on civilians in Syria during the civil war (at least to May 2013). [We are yet to see the report by the UN Chemical Weapons inspectors in relation to the despicable chemical attacks in Damascus on 21 August 2013 which killed 1,429 people, mainly civilians including hundreds of children]. Nevertheless it is indisputable that the Syrian Government has committed War Crimes quite independently of any alleged use of chemical weapons by virtue of their shelling civilians with artillery.

For example in the Houla Region North of the city of Homs on 25 May 2012, the Syrain Army’s artillery strike that killed at least 20 people is on its own conceivably a war crime if the attack was aimed at or recklessly indifferent to civilian casualties.

See Article 8 The Rome Statute section 2 c) “In the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts committed against persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause: (i) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture”; and also Article 8 The Rome Statute section 2 e) “Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts: (i) Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities”.

As a result of the artillery barrage and the subsequent murders of another 88 civilians by the Ba’ath party (of which Bashar al-Assad is the Secretary General) militia the Shabiha, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the Syrian government. On 28 and 29 May 12012, the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Canada and five other nations jointly expelled Syrian ambassadors and diplomats from their territories….The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said the international response could include referrals to the International Criminal Court and imposing U.N. sanctions such as an arms embargo as well as financial and travel restrictions on identified individuals. In August 2012 UN investigators released a report which stated that it was likely that Syrian troops and Shabiha militia were responsible for the massacre. [24]

Furthermore actions by both the Syrian government and the rebels who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity can be targeted by nation states such as US, Britain or France using military sanctions proportionate to the responsibility to protect, , even without UN approval. According to Geoffrey Robertson QC, a prominent international criminal and human rights lawyer and judge who has argued landmark cases at the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, and UN war crimes courts, said:

“The right to intervene, to stop a crime against humanity or deter a crime against humanity, has been with us for many centuries, and it predates the United Nations and it continued after the United Nations… long before the United Nations was created in 1945, Britain didn’t need world approval to attack foreign ports to stop the slave trade, or to lead a coalition to stop Ottoman Empire atrocities and liberate Greece…. NATO’s 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign halted ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Yugoslav forces but didn’t have Security Council authorization. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo later judged the campaign a “legitimate” use of military power”[25]

The Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on 23 August 2013 that “Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law, (and would) would amount to a “crime against humanity”: [26]

“ It is the duty of every state to prosecute u=international crimes so as to prevent impunity for such crimes…. Regrettably, as it stands now, the only international crime explicitly related to chemical weapons which has been recognised by the international community is the war crime of the use of asphyxiating gas in international armed conflict. Given the nearly universal adherence to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, this limitation, which dates back to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, is outdated and needs to be addressed. Both the jurisprudence of the ICTY and the comprehensive study published by the International Committee of the Red Cross have concluded the customary international law prohibition, binding on all States, on the use of chemical weapons in international armed conflict (may) now extend to the use in non-international armed conflict as well.” [27]

Those individuals that have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity including use of chemical weapons seem to be on BOTH sides of the Syrian Civil War and therefore those individuals guilt of war crimes should, as the UN and FIDH have found and recommended, be prosecuted in the ICC if the UN Security Council can agree or specialist ad hoc international tribunals (such as the Nuremburg, Rwanda and Former Yugoslavian Tribunals) forthwith. As there may be political resistance at the Security Council level to refer the Syrian government to the ICC (Syria not being a party to the Statute of the ICC) and given the fact that most of the accusations are against the current government of the Syrian Arab Republic the preferable course would be an ad hoc international war crimes tribunal, because its jurisdiction will have primacy over domestic Syrian courts. [28]

“the UN Security Council must refer the situation in Syria to the ICC to investigate all parties to the conflict for crimes against humanity. If those most responsible for the international crimes committed in Syria are not brought to justice, this will be a tacit endorsement for escalating massacres and other international crimes. Any efforts towards a lasting political solution in Syria would be futile without ensuring accountability and justice. FIDH also calls on the international community to impose targeted sanctions against those individuals in Syria who are deemed most responsible for violations of international law, until these individuals can be tried in court. As some countries call for a military intervention in Syria, FIDH reminds the international community that the protection of the Syrian people from further atrocities must be at the centre of any action in Syria. All States must strictly abide by international law, in particular international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law, and be held accountable in case of grave breaches of such standards.”[29]

(The last two Reports by the official UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria dated 5th February (Fourth Report) and 4th June 2013 (Fifth Report) respectively are highly critical of the Assad regime but document atrocities and human rights violation by both sides in the Syrian civil war. The 5th UN Report waters down Carla Del Ponte findings/assertions that there was no evidence of chemical attacks by Assad’s government up to 15th May 2013 “by both parties” but requires “further investigation and justice for the victims…there can be no peace in Syria without justice.”)

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to the 23rd session of Human Rights Council 5th Report dated 4 June 2013 ( A/HRC/23/58 ) covers the period 15 January to 15 May 2013. The findings are based on 430 interviews and other collected evidence.          

“This report documents for the first time the systematic imposition of sieges, the use of chemical agents and forcible displacement. War crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations continue apace. Referral to justice remains paramount. … There are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons. The precise agents, delivery systems or perpetrators could not be identified….136. As the conflict escalates, the potential for use of chemical weapons is of deepening concern. Chemical weapons include toxic chemicals, munitions, devices and related equipment as defined in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction. Also applicable is the 1925 Geneva Protocol which Syria has ratified. The use of chemical weapons is prohibited in all circumstances under customary international humanitarian law and is a war crime under the Rome Statute…. 139… “

The 5th Report goes on to say that up to that point, the commission relied primarily on first-hand accounts to corroborate incidents, there were 4 previous chemical weapons attacks– on :

  1. Khan Al-Asal, Aleppo, on 19 March;
  2. Uteibah, Damascus, on 19 March;
  3. Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood, Aleppo on 13 April, and
  4. Saraqib, Idlib, on 29 April.

– there are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator…. 140. Conclusive findings – particularly in the absence of a large-scale attack – may be reached only after testing samples taken directly from victims or the site of the alleged attack. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the Panel of Experts, led by Professor Sellström and assembled under the Secretary General’s Mechanism (SGM) for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (pursuant to Resolution 42/37c of 1987 and Security Council Resolution 620 of 1988), is granted full access to Syria…on 28 March 2013, the Commission reiterated its requests (made several times since October 2012) for access to investigate human rights abuse to the Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic and no response was received.”[30]

The UN Security Council has not been able to achieve unanimity on a resolution to use lethal military force against the Syrian government (China and Russia are against the idea) [31]

However if a resolution calling for the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to go to trial under the auspices of the ICC or ad hoc tribunal, there may well be agreement.

Whatever, individual states may choose to do militarily, they should all agree to such a UN resolution in the face of so many UN Reports. [32]

If individual countries feel compelled to take military action without UN sanction, such strikes may be lawful if they are done to protect civilians from the perpetrators of those crimes at international law and not for an ulterior purpose.

Alexander Athos

4 September 2013

















[16] and






{Note: Article 8 of the Rome Statute War Crimes includes:

2 a)      Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention, relevantly:

(i) wilful killing (ii) torture (iii) wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health (iv) Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly …(vii) Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement

2 b)       Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts:

  1.             (i) Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities (ii) Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives…(iv) Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread…(v) Attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives… (x) Killing or wounding treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army (xvii) Employing poison or poisoned weapons; (xviii) Employing asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices…(xx) Employing weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering or which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict, provided that such weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare are the subject of a comprehensive prohibition

2 c)      In the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts committed against persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause:

2 e)      Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts:

  1. Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities;
  2. Intentionally directing attacks against buildings, material, medical units and transport, and personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions in conformity with international law;

Note in relation to the Geneva Conventions, Protocols were added in 1977 and 2005 …

“They combine clear legal obligations and enshrine basic humanitarian principles.

• Soldiers who surrender or who are hors de combat are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity. It is forbidden to kill or injure them.

• The wounded and sick must be collected and cared for by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. Protection also covers medical personnel, establishments, transports and equipment. The emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red crystal is the sign of such protection and must be respected.

• Captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions. They must be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. They must have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.

• Civilians under the authority of a party to the conflict or an occupying power of which they are not nationals are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions.

• Everyone must be entitled to benefit from fundamental judicial guarantees. No one must be sentenced without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court. No one must be held responsible for an act he has not committed. No one must be subjected to physical or mental torture, corporal punishment or cruel or degrading treatment.

• Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.

• Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Adequate precautions shall be taken in this regard before launching an attack.” }




[25]; see too:


{Article 7 of Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court:

‘Crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as

part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population,

with knowledge of the attack:

national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender … or other grounds that are universally

recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act

referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court; … }

[27]      L. Tabassi and E. van der Borght Chemical Warfare as Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity HAGUE JUSTICE JOURNAL Vol 2 No 1 2007; pp20-21 and J. Henckaerts and L. Doswald-Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I: Rules, Cambridge University Press (2005), pp. 261-263.]





[32]      Notes on UN Reports:

Here is list of the five UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (IICI) Reports relating to Human Rights in Syria. All the IICI Reports were based on 1,630 interviews conducted and Photographs, video recordings, satellite imagery and medical records were collected, Reports from Governments and non-Government sources, academic analyses, and United Nations reports, including from human rights bodies and mechanisms and humanitarian organizations, also formed part of the investigation since the mandate began in September 2011 :

For the period March 2011 to January 2013:

1st Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic  23rd Nov 2011  A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1

2nd Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic22nd Feb 2012  A/HRC/19/69 

3rd Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic16th Aug 2012  A/HRC/21/50 

4th Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic  5th Feb2012    A/HRC/22/59 

For the period January 2013 to 15 May 2013:

5th Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic 4th June            2013   A/HRC/23/58 

It is worth mentioning that in addition to the Chemical Weapons use discussed herein, there were 17 massacres recorded over the last fourth month period to May 2013 alone. Many of these massacres were by Government forces or associated militias. However others were committed by rebel extremists such as the Usud Al-Tawhid Brigades and Al-Nusra via their self-styled Sharia Courts (para 38 et seq of the 5th Report).

Here is a brief summary of the major UN reports and documents relating to Human Rights in Syria:

22nd Mar 2011A/HRC/16/G/12                      Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic  

28th Apr 2011  A/HRC/S-16/L.1                       Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

4th May 2011   A/HRC/RES/S-16/1      Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

18th Aug 2011  A/HRC/S-17/L.1                       Grave human rights violations in the Syrian Arab Republic

2nd Sept 2011   A/HRC/WG.6/12/SYR/1          National report Syrian Arab Republic

5th Sept 2011   A/HRC/WG.6/12/SYR/2          Compilation Syrian Arab Republic

15th Sept 2011A/HRC/18/53              Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

16th Sept 2011A/HRC/18/G/1                        Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic

23rd Nov 2011A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1   1st Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

30th Nov 2011  A/HRC/S-18/L.1                       Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

5th Dec 2011    A/HRC/RES/S-18/1      Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

24th Jan 2012   A/HRC/19/11              Report of Working Group

15th Feb 2012  A/HRC/19/G/2                        Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic

21st Feb 2012  A/RES/66/253             Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

22nd Feb 2012  A/HRC/19/69               2nd Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

23rd Feb 2012A/HRC/19/NGO/82     Cairo Institute

22nd June 2012            A/HRC/20/37              Report of Secretary General

25th July 2012  A/67/181                     Report of Secretary General Human rights and unilateral      coercive measures

16th Aug 2012A/HRC/21/50               3rd Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

25th Sept 2012A/HRC/21/32              Report of Secretary General

17th Oct 2012  A/HRC/RES/21/26       Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

18th Oct 2012  A/HRC/22/G/1                        Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic

11th Nov 2012  A/HRC/22/36              Report of Secretary General

15th Nov 2012  A/HRC/21/32/Corr.1   Report of Secretary General- Corrigendum

19th Nov 2012  A/HRC/20/37/Corr.1   Report of Secretary General- Corrigendum

5th February    A/HRC/22/59               4th Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

12th February   A/RES/67/183             Report – Corrigendum

18th February   A/HRC/22/59/Corr.1   Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

22nd February  A/HRC/22/NGO/143   Statement by STP on human rights in the Syria

18th March      A/HRC/22/L.31                        Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

20th March      A/HRC/22/L.31/Rev.1Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

12th April         A/HRC/RES/22/24       Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

23rd May          A/HRC/23/NGO/73     Cairo Institute

24th May          A/HRC/23/NGO/89     Cairo Institute

28th May          A/HRC/23/L.1              Killings in Al-Qusayr

29th May          A/HRC/RES/23/1         Killings in Al-Qusayr

4th June                        A/HRC/23/58              5th Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

11th June          A/HRC/23/L.29                        Deterioration Situation of human rights in the Syria

14th June          A/HRC/RES/23/26       Deterioration Situation of human rights in the Syria

28th August      A/HRC/24/NGO/15     Arab Women Foundation

Alexander Athos is a writer and businessman.He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (European History) Personal background Alexander was christened Orthodox brought up Catholic and now Evangelical Christian with an acceptance of the best in Christian tradition and a respect for genuine people of faith from other cultures. Political inclinations: Christian intellectual who has an eclectic predisposition to understanding global and national political and social trends and seeking to influence them for good by thoughtful and persuasive discourse.

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Middle East

The Absence of Riyadh in the Turbulent Afghanistan



As the situation in Afghanistan becoming increasingly turbulent, the NATO allies led by the United States are fully focused on military withdrawal. As this has to be done within tight deadline, there have been some disagreements between the United States and the European Union. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, publicly accused the U.S. military in Afghanistan, which was responsible for the internal security of Kabul Airport, of deliberately obstructing the EU evacuation operations.

China and Russia on the other hand, are more cautious in expressing their positions while actively involving in the Afghanistan issue. This is especially true for Russia, which after both the Taliban and the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) led by Ahmad Massoud have pleaded Russia for mediation, Moscow has now become a major player in the issue.

Compared with these major powers, Saudi Arabia, another regional power in the Middle East, appears to be quite low-key. So far, only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia has issued a diplomatic statement on the day after the Taliban settled in Kabul, stating that it hopes the Taliban can maintain the security, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. Considering the role that Saudi Arabia has played in Afghanistan, such near silent treatment is quite intriguing.

As the Taliban were originally anti-Soviet Sunni Jihadists, they were deeply influenced by Wahhabism, and were naturally leaning towards Riyadh. During the period when the Taliban took over Afghanistan for the first time, Saudi Arabia became one of the few countries in the international community that publicly recognized the legitimacy of the Taliban regime.

Although the Taliban quickly lost its power under the impact of the anti-terror wars initiated by the George W. Bush administration, and the Saudis were pressured by Washington to criticize the Taliban on the surface, yet in reality they continuously provided financial aid to the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda organization which was in symbiotic relations with the Taliban.

However, after 2010, with the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State, the Riyadh authorities had decreased their funding for their “partners” in Afghanistan due to the increase in financial aid targets.

In June 2017, after Mohammed bin Salman became the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and took power, Saudi Arabia’s overall foreign policy began to undergo major changes. It gradually abandoned the policy of exporting its religious ideology and switched to “religious diplomacy” that focuses on economic, trade and industrial cooperation with main economies. Under such approach, Saudi Arabia’s Afghanistan policy will inevitably undergo major adjustments.

With the reformation initiated by the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia has drastically reduced its financial aid to the Taliban. In addition, Riyadh also further ordered the Taliban to minimize armed hostilities and put its main energy on the path of “peaceful nation-building”. This sudden reversal of the stance of Saudi Arabia means that Riyadh has greatly weakened the voices of the Taliban in the global scenes.

In recent years, the Taliban have disassociated with Saudi Arabia in rounds of Afghanistan peace talks. After Kabul was taken over by the Taliban on August 19, a senior Taliban official clearly stated that the Taliban does not accept Wahhabism, and Afghanistan has no place for Wahhabism. Although this statement means that Al-Qaeda’s religious claims will no longer be supported by the Taliban, it also indicates that the Taliban has reached the tipping point of breaking up with Riyadh.

Under such circumstance, for the Riyadh authorities under Mohammed bin Salman, the most appropriate action is probably wait-and-see as Afghanistan changes again.

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Middle East

Gulf security: It’s not all bad news



Gulf states are in a pickle.

They fear that the emerging parameters of a reconfigured US commitment to security in the Middle East threaten to upend a more-than-a-century-old pillar of regional security and leave them with no good alternatives.

The shaky pillar is the Gulf monarchies’ reliance on a powerful external ally that, in the words of Middle East scholar Roby C. Barrett, “shares the strategic, if not dynastic, interests of the Arab States.” The ally was Britain and France in the first half of the 20th century and the United States since then.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the revered founder of the United Arab Emirates, implicitly recognised Gulf states’ need for external support when he noted in a 2001 contribution to a book that the six monarchies that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) “only support the GCC when it suited them.”

Going forward question marks about the reliability of the United States may be unsettling but the emerging contours of what a future US approach could look like they are not all bad news from the perspective of the region’s autocratic regimes.

The contours coupled with the uncertainty, the Gulf states’ unwillingness to integrate their defence strategies, a realisation that neither China nor Russia would step into the United States’ shoes, and a need to attract foreign investment to diversify their energy-dependent economies, is driving efforts to dial down regional tensions and strengthen regional alliances.

Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, his UAE counterpart, are headed to Washington this week for a tripartite meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The three officials intend “to discuss accomplishments” since last year’s establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries “and other important issues,” Mr Blinken tweeted.

The Israeli foreign ministry suggested those other issues include “further opportunities to promote peace in the Middle East” as well as regional stability and security, in a guarded reference to Iran.

From the Gulf’s perspective, the good news is also that the Biden administration’s focus on China may mean that it is reconfiguring its military presence in the Middle East with the moving of some assets from the Gulf to Jordan and the withdrawal from the region of others, but is not about to pull out lock, stock and barrel.

Beyond having an interest in ensuring the free flow of trade and energy, the US’s strategic interest in a counterterrorism presence in the Gulf has increased following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The US now relies on an ’over the horizon’ approach for which the Middle East remains crucial.

Moreover, domestic US politics mitigate towards a continued, if perhaps reduced, military presence even if Americans are tired of foreign military adventures, despite the emergence of a Biden doctrine that de-emphasises military engagement. Moreover, the Washington foreign policy elite’s focus is now on Asia rather than the Middle East.

Various powerful lobbies and interest groups, including Jews, Israelis, Gulf states, Evangelists, and the oil and defence industries retain a stake in a continued US presence in the region. Their voices are likely to resonate louder in the run-up to crucial mid-term Congressional elections in 2022. A recent Pew Research survey concluded that the number of white Evangelicals had increased from 25 per cent of the US population in 2016 to 29 per cent in 2020.

Similarly, like Afghanistan, the fading hope for a revival of the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, from which former President Donald J. Trump withdrew in 2018, and the risk of a major military conflagration makes a full-fledged US military withdrawal unlikely any time soon. It also increases the incentive to continue major arms sales to Gulf countries.

That’s further good news for Gulf regimes against the backdrop of an emerging US arms sales policy that the Biden administration would like to project as emphasising respect for human rights and rule of law. However, that de facto approach is unlikely to affect big-ticket prestige items like the F-35 fighter jets promised to the UAE.

Instead, the policy will probably apply to smaller weapons such as assault rifles and surveillance equipment, that police or paramilitary forces could use against protesters. Those are not the technological edge items where the United States has a definitive competitive advantage.

The big-ticket items with proper maintenance and training would allow Gulf states to support US regional operations as the UAE and Qatar did in 2011 in Libya, and, the UAE in Somalia and Afghanistan as part of peacekeeping missions.

In other words, the Gulf states can relax. The Biden administration is not embracing what some arms trade experts define as the meaning of ending endless wars such as Afghanistan.

“Ending endless war means more than troop withdrawal. It also means ending the militarized approach to foreign policy — including the transfer of deadly weapons around the world — that has undermined human rights and that few Americans believe makes the country any safer,” the experts said in a statement in April.

There is little indication that the views expressed in the statement that stroke with thinking in the progressive wing of Mr. Biden’s Democratic Party is taking root in the policymaking corridors of Washington. As long as that doesn’t happen, Gulf states have less to worry about.

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Middle East

Reducing Middle East tensions potentially lessens sectarianism and opens doors for women



Two separate developments involving improved relations between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and women’s sporting rights demonstrate major shifts in how rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world and competition to define Islam in the 21st century is playing out in a world in which Middle Eastern states can no longer depend on the United States coming to their defence.

The developments fit into a regional effort by conservative, status quo states, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt; and proponents of different forms of political Islam, Iran, Turkey, and Qatar; to manage rather than resolve their differences in a bid to ensure that they do not spin out of control. The efforts have had the greatest success with the lifting in January of a 3.5-year-long Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

The reconciliation moves also signal the pressure on Middle Eastern players in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam to change perceptions of the region as being wracked by civil wars, sectarian tensions, extremism, jihadism, and autocracy. Altering that perception is key to the successful implementation of plans to diversify oil and gas export dependent economies in the Gulf, develop resource-poor countries in the region, tackle an economic crisis in Turkey, and enable Iran to cope with crippling US sanctions.

Finally, these developments are also the harbinger of the next phase in the competition for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world. In a break with the past decade, lofty declarations extolling Islam’s embrace of tolerance, pluralism and respect for others’ rights that are not followed up by deeds no longer cut ice. Similarly, proponents of socially conservative expressions of political Islam need to be seen as adopting degrees of moderation that so far have been the preserve of their rivals who prefer the geopolitical status quo ante.

That next phase of the battle is being shaped not only by doubts among US allies in the Middle East about the reliability of the United States as a security guarantor, reinforced by America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is also being informed by a realisation that neither China nor Russia can (or will) attempt to replace the US defence umbrella in the Gulf.

The battles’ shifting playing field is further being determined by setbacks suffered by political Islam starting with the 2013 military coup that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother and Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president and brutally decimated the Muslim Brotherhood. More recently, political Islamists suffered a stunning electoral defeat in Morocco and witnessed the autocratic takeover of power in Tunisia by President Kais Saied.

A just published survey of Tunisian public opinion showed 45 percent of those polled blaming Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahada party, for the country’s crisis and 66 percent saying they had no confidence in the party.

The Middle East’s rivalries and shifting sands lend added significance to a planned visit in the coming weeks to Najaf, an Iraqi citadel of Shiite Muslim learning and home of 91-year-old Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, by Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s foremost historic educational institution.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of Iraqi-mediated talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two major centres of Islam’s two main strands, that are aimed at dialling down tensions between them that reverberate throughout the Muslim world. The talks are likely to help the two regional powers manage rather than resolve their differences.

The rivalry was long marked by Saudi-inspired, religiously-cloaked anti-Shiite rhetoric and violence in a limited number of cases and Iranian concerns about the country’s Sunni minority and its opting for a strategy centred on Shiite Muslim proxies in third countries and support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Implicit in Saudi and Iranian sectarianism was the perception of Shiite minorities in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni majority countries, and Sunnis in Iran and Iraq after the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein, as fifth wheels of the other.

Imam El-Tayeb’s visit, a signal of improvement in long-strained Egyptian-Iraqi relations, as well as a possible later meeting between the Sunni cleric, a Shiite cleric other than Ayatollah Al-Sistani who is too old and fragile to travel, and Pope Francis, are intended to put sectarianism on the backburner. Ayatollah Al-Sistani met with the pope during his visit to Iraq in March.

The visit takes on added significance in the wake of this week’s suicide bombing of a Hazara Shiite mosque in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that killed at least 50 people and wounded 100 others. The South Asian affiliate of the Islamic State, Islamic State-Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the attack, the worst since the Taliban came to power in August. It was likely designed to fuel tension between the Sunni Muslim group and the Hazara who account for 20 percent of the Afghan population.

Imam El-Tayeb’s travel to Najaf is likely to be followed by a visit by Mohamed al-Issa, secretary-general of the Saudi-dominated Muslim World League. The League was long a prime vehicle for the propagation of anti-Shiite Saudi ultra-conservatism. Since coming to office, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recast the League as a tool to project his vaguely defined notion of a state-controlled ‘moderate’ Islam that is tolerant and pluralistic.

In a similar vein, hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took many by surprise by allowing women into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to attend this month’s World Cup qualifier between Iran and South Korea. Iran is the only country to ban women from attending men’s sporting events. It was unclear whether the move was a one-off measure or signalled a loosening or lifting of the ban.

Mr Raisi was believed to see it as a way to rally domestic support and improve the Islamic republic’s image as much in China and Russia as in the West. No doubt, Mr. Raisi will have noted that China and Russia have joined the United States, Europe, and others in pressuring the Taliban in Afghanistan to recognize women’s rights.

To be sure, women in Iran enjoy education rights and populate universities. They can occupy senior positions in business and government even if Iran remains a patriarchal society. However, the ban on women in stadia, coupled with the chador, the head to foot covering of women, has come to dominate the perception of Iran’s gender policies.

Allowing women to attend the World Cup qualifier suggests a degree of flexibility on Mr. Raisi’s part. During his presidential campaign Mr. Raisi argued that granting women access to stadiums would not solve their problems.

It also demonstrates that the government, with hardliners in control of all branches, can shave off sharp edges of its Islamic rule far easier than reformists like Mr. Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, were able to do.

The question is whether that is Mr. Raisi’s intention. Mr. Raisi may be testing the waters with this month’ soccer match, only time will tell.

It may be too big a leap in the immediate future but, like Imam El-Tayeb’s visit to Najaf, it indicates that the dialling down of regional tensions puts a greater premium on soft power which in turn builds up pressure for less harsh expressions of religion.

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