This Syrian rebel soldier prepares gas masks, following a chemical weapons attack.
On August 21, 2013, a devastating chemical weapons attack occurred in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria. Around 1,400 people were killed, most of them civilians, including more than 400 children. For many months the international community had warned both sides in the Syrian civil war that any use of chemical weapons would have severe consequences. Most nations of the world have agreed by treaty to ban the use of chemical weapons such as Sarin gas in war. Historically, international efforts to ban the use of chemical weapons intensified after World War I.
Based on intelligence sources and a United Nations inspectors’ report, the United States, Britain, and France issued statements blaming the regime of Bashar al-Assad of carrying out the attack. US president Barack Obama prepared to respond to this use of chemical weapons by launching airstrikes against Syrian targets. US military action was then set aside after the United States and Russia agreed to seek UN backing to require Syria to turn over all of its stockpiles of chemical weapons for destruction.
On September 27 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon blasted Syria’s leader for “crimes against humanity” while announcing that the Security Council had voted to seize Syria’s chemical weapons. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will carry out the council’s resolution in Syria. This organization oversees implementation of the international treaty known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, which has been signed by 189 nation-states. The OPCW’s inspection teams entered Syria before October 1 to begin the process of locating and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons. The OPCW’s work will be difficult because the civil war is ongoing.
Image credit: © Marcin Suder/Corbis
- UN Security Council Agrees to Rid Syria of Chemical Weapons, Endorses Peace Process
This article details the recent decision of the UN Security Council to go into Syria to dismantle the country’s supply of chemical weapons.
(Source: UN.org, September 27, 2013)
- Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013
Read the US government’s initial response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
(Source: WhiteHouse.gov, August 30, 2013)
- U.N. Confirms Sarin Used in Syria Attack; U.S., UK, France Blame Assad
This article focuses on the UN report issued four weeks after the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
(Source: Reuters.com, September 16, 2013)
- OPCW Executive Council Adopts Historic Decision on Destruction of Syria Chemical Weapons
This is the official website of the organization tasked by the United Nations with the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons; includes a downloadable version of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international ban on chemical weapons, and lists the 189 member states that have signed it (Syria being 1 of only 7 nonsignatories in the world).
(Source: OPCW.org; accessed October 1, 2013)
- INSIGHT: Syria’s Chemical Weapons—the Russia Factor
This opinion piece by a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch analyzes Russia’s role in the international debate over how to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
(Source: VOA News, September 26, 2013)