PRESS RELEASE / November 30, 2023

Syrian survivors, humanitarians and lawyers advocate for international tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of chemical attacks


Today, Syrian human rights defenders and civil society groups are calling for the establishment of an exceptional chemical weapons tribunal to hold perpetrators accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond.

The Syrian-led initiative is launching a video message to heads of state, supported by a  civil society and victim statement, asking them to stand up for international justice and work with civil society to establish an exceptional tribunal to provide some redress for victims and to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the future.

Teams from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international body dedicated to eliminating chemical weapons, have verified that the Syrian government has used chemical gas against its citizens on nine occasions since 2013, while non-state actors such as ISIS have been found responsible for two attacks.

Advocates are proposing the exceptional tribunal will consider cases for all uses of chemical weapons, for Syria and for any case that falls outside of the International Criminal Court, due to the political deadlock that currently prevents the court from acting.

Alaa, a chemical attack survivor and member of the Association of Victims of Chemical weapons in the video, said: 

“The hardest moment I will never forget: the image of children, especially my own child, who was unable to breathe as I carried him. I was unable to do anything to help him. I can still picture when we were taken to the medical point, the victims and tens of bodies lying in the corridors with foam coming out of their mouths. 

“All of these images won’t leave my memory. What’s even more horrific is that the criminal hasn’t been held accountable for this horrible crime.”

Diaa, a survivor who lost all of his family to the chemical attack in eastern Ghouta in 2013 said: “The tribunal is significant because it is crucial for ensuring justice and preventing similar attacks globally. On a personal level, it would provide me with some relief from the mountains of torment and distress the massacre has caused.”

The public call from Syrian groups follows almost two years of international expert consultations and multilateral and bilateral discussions with States, and is based on in-depth analysis of legal, political and technical considerations.  

Ibrahim Olabi, a founding member of Restore the Norm and British Syrian Barrister at Guernica 37 Chambers, said: 

“The principle is simple: States from across the world can come together to create a body to collectively prosecute the use of chemical weapons, reinforcing the universality of the norm prohibiting the use of these weapons.”