Reporters briefed by US state department on OPCW's Syrian chemical weapons investigation
The US State department hosted a briefing Wednesday on the Investigation and Identification Team report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on its findings that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Douma in April 2018.
"The IIT found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Forces dropped two cylinders containing toxic chlorine gas on the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7, 2018," Joseph Manso, US representative to the OPCW, told reporters during a telephone briefing on Wednesday.
This conference call comes days after the OPCW director general gave a briefing to delegations and to the United Nations Security Council earlier this month, following the release of the OPCW's third report attributing the use of chemical weapons in Syria at the end of January. The report looked at 19,000 files, included statements of 66 witnesses and has examined 70 chemical samples.
The use of chemical and biological weapons was banned by the international community after World War I, and that ban was reinforced in 1972 and 1993.
The IIT report found that these chemical weapons hit centrally located residential buildings, killing 43 and affecting many more. It also found that at the time, Russian forces were located at the Douma Air Base at the time and the airspace was by the Syrian Arab Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces.
"The report clearly refutes Russia's claim that this was an attack carried out by opposition forces and underscores the lack of cooperation from Russia and Syria to provide information on this attack," Manso told reporters, noting that this was the fifth separate instance of chemical weapons use that the investigations team has attributed to the Syrian government.
This leads to the question of how to hold the Syrian government accountable for these acts. Manso described this as a "process" that could include a number of things. He described the investigation and report as part of a structure to ensure accountability.
"It is part of evidence gathering and building the confidence of the international community in its conclusions. And I think that it will eventually lead to more accountability," said Manso, adding that they believe Russia bears responsibility for shielding the Syrian government from accountability by helping obstruct inspectors from accessing the site.
Emphasising the thoroughness and rigor of the investigation, Manso said, "They did not start with one scenario. They started with a number of scenarios. They tested the evidence against them. They found no evidence for the alternate – to corroborate the alternate scenarios, like this was done by rebels or other actors."
"And they did find evidence that would corroborate the conclusion that this attack was carried out by the Syrian Arab Air Force from one of their helicopters," he continued.
Despite the obstacles they have faced throughout the process, he stressed their determination to continue to work to hold the Assad government accountable.
"The United States and the international community are determined that the Assad regime should be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons," Manso said. "This is an ongoing process and we will not get tired of it."