UN officials say alleged chemical weapons attacks, which Syria’s opposition says killed hundreds near Damascus, were a “serious escalation”. How should the world respond?
Yesterday’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Eastern and Western Ghouta, outside Damascus, provided some of the most shocking and cruel images yet seen in Syria’s two-year-old civil war.
But the attack, which killed several hundred people including many children, just adds to a death toll that long ago exceeded 100,000. It is yet another example of massive civilian killing that has been tolerated by an international response that has substituted handwringing for effective policy that could save lives.
We now need urgent action from the UN Security Council and other key players.
First, the Council should demand that the Syrian government give the United Nations chemical weapons inspection team - currently in Damascus - immediate access to the sites of the reported chemical attacks, while evidence can still be collected. The UN Commission of Inquiry into human rights and humanitarian law violations should also be given access to establish who is responsible.
At the same time, both the government and opposition forces must grant full and unhindered urgent access for humanitarian and medical workers to provide badly needed medical care and humanitarian support to affected populations.
And if there is ever to be an end to the cycle of impunity that fuels the killings, the UN Security Council should refer the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure justice for all those responsible for the many war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in this war.