PRESS RELEASE / August 8, 2023

Syrian doctor and survivor of the 21st century’s deadliest chemical attack speaks at UN demanding justice for victims

TODAY, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the largest chemical massacre in the 21st century in Ghouta, Syria, a doctor who survived the attack is demanding justice and accountability for thousands of victims and families at the United Nations Security Council in New York.

The use of chemical weapons is banned under international law and completely reprehensible. On 21 August 2013, 1,119 civilians were killed in the Ghouta region of Damascus as war raged in Syria.* Despite a UN resolution to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria in 2013 and numerous investigations, at least 160 further chemical attacks have since taken place. Survivors and activists continue to call for justice. 

Speaking today at the United Nations Security Council, Dr Mohamad Katoub, a survivor to the chemical attack in Ghouta and project manager at IMPACT – Civil Society Research and Development, said: “I witnessed the Ghouta massacre and through my work as a member of the medical team of Ghouta, and after I fled out of Syria with other civil society organizations, I have been engaged in supporting the medical response to chemical attacks, and the documentation of uses of chemical weapons in Syria. An unfortunate experience that I as a dentist shouldn’t have learnt if there were any measures of accountability.

“In the morning of that day, I walked out of my office to a nearby school that we had transformed into a decontamination centre. I can’t forget the scene of the school halls, bodies were scattered around turning the child’s sacred space into a vast funeral home.”

“We didn’t have protection gear, we didn’t have enough space for each patient that needed care after they had been suffocating from chemical weapons. But we had hopes at that time that if we exposed those crimes we would prevent future attacks in Syria and globally,” adds Dr Katoub. 

Syria has been enabled with its support from Russia to act with impunity. In the last decade, investigations into the deadly chemical attacks by Assad’s brutal regime have been hindered  by the manipulation of evidence, false witnesses, the intimidation of survivors and disinformation on social media. 

Laila Kiki, Executive Director of The Syria Campaign, said: “Never again should fellow human beings anywhere in the world be forced to face such horror. Today those responsible for the attack in Ghouta and other chemical weapons attacks in Syria remain unpunished and civilians continue to suffer to this day. Without accountability there is always a risk that we will see a repeat of these mass atrocities in Syria and elsewhere. The international community must devise international mechanisms that can hold perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria to account.

“Our Deadly Disinformation report that analysed the propaganda on social media found that the same social media accounts were used in denying war crimes in Syria and Ukraine as well. Social media companies have failed to equitably enforce their policies to counter disinformation over the use of chemical weapons in Syria with devastating consequences for survivors and victims who continue to face the impact of the spread of these harmful lies.”

Dr Katoub, who now works on humanitarian policy and the protection of Syrian aid workers, said: “The risk of using chemical weapons is still there, the same regime that used it with impunity is still in power, the same Russian allies are still supporting Syria’s war criminals. Other dictators worldwide might get the wrong message if they see that routes toward accountability are blocked.”

In his speech to the UN Security Council, Dr Katoub concluded: “We will keep the fight to explore concrete options to reinstate the norm of prohibition of chemical weapons by finding ways to hold all perpetrators to account alongside finding states who believe that this exceptional use of chemical weapons, requires exceptional measures to say no. No to impunity.”


To speak with Dr Katoub or arrange interviews with survivors, please contact the media team.

Read Dr Katoub’s full speech below.