It has been two years since the Bashar Assad regime’s chemical attack on civilians in Syria's Douma killed more than 41 people and injured more than 500 others. Despite concrete evidence that it used chlorine, the Syrian regime has still not officially been held accountable by international authorities for the massacre. The April 7, 2018 massacre helped the regime take control of the town.
Last year, a final report released by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine was used in the attack. The report said there were "reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon has taken place on April 7, 2018. This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine." The long-awaited findings confirmed an interim report, which medics said killed about 40 people when a cylinder containing poison gas landed on the roof of a housing block.
The report did not place blame because it was not part of the OPCW's scope at the time, although the watchdog has since been given powers to investigate responsibility for all chemical attacks in Syria dating back to 2014. A team of OPCW inspectors took more than 100 samples from some seven sites in Douma after they gained access to the town several weeks after the attack. The team also interviewed witnesses and carried out a series of tests, including toxicological and ballistic analysis, The Hague watchdog said.
“On the second anniversary of the Douma chemical massacre, justice is absent and an international failure to hold the perpetrators of crimes against millions of innocent Syrians accountable. Merely two days after the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack memorial, we sadly remember today another regime led chemical massacre on the people of Douma in 2018. More than 41 people suffocated to death and more than 500 others were injured. The mass murderers are still free,” the Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, said in a series of Twitter messages on Wednesday.
Russia, which backs the regime of Syria's Bashar Assad, swiftly rejected the OPCW report, saying that it was "staged" by the White Helmets. Despite the rejections, activists and world powers continue to accuse the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons against its opponents and civilians.
The suspected use of chemical weapons in Douma, located on the outskirts of Damascus, prompted the United States, Britain and France to mount a series of airstrikes on Syrian regime targets. Separately, in Washington, the U.S. welcomed the OPCW's report and slammed the Syrian regime and Russia for trying to "sow disinformation" and charged that both had falsely accused the opposition of being behind the attack in Douma.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed in the nine years of brutal civil war that have riddled Syria. Yet, these attacks were not carried out through conventional weapons alone as the Bashar Assad regime repeatedly used chemical weapons, and no legal process is being conducted for these crimes. According to data supplied by Anadolu Agency (AA), the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in Syria at least 216 times over the last nine years. The regime conducted its first major chemical attack on Aug. 21, 2013 in the eastern Ghouta region of Damascus. The onslaught, which killed over 1,400 civilians, raised international concern at the time.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama had said the use of chemical weapons was a "red line," yet the regime continued using them after his statement.
Previously, the OPCW requested the annihilation of all chemical weapons and on Aug. 19, 2014, it announced that this process was completed. Yet, it became clear that with the attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017, the regime still had the illegal weapons. Over 100 civilians lost their lives in the assault and more than 500 people were affected by the gas.
The U.N. and OPCW Joint Investigation Mechanism (JIM) held Bashar Assad accountable for the massacre in Khan Sheikhoun and presented its report regarding the incident to the U.N. Security Council. In a meeting on Nov. 16, 2017, however, the resolution that would extend the mission of the JIM was vetoed by Russia. Eventually, the JIM had to end its efforts on Nov. 17, 2017. Since the JIM's decision is not enough to put those responsible on trial, there have not been legal steps taken against the regime.