On August 21, 2013, the residents of Ghouta, in the Damascus countryside, woke up to a massacre that was unprecedented even in the violent history of the Assad regime’s rule in Syria. During the night, as most residents were sleeping, rockets carrying colorless and odorless chemical gasses were launched into the residential areas killing more than 1,100 people, most of them children.
The attack took place one year after Barack Obama’s announcement that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line for the US, and three days after the arrival of a UN mission of international inspectors to Damascus.
Although unprecedented in its effect on Syrian civilians, this massacre was not the first use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against civilians who had begun revolting against its rule in the spring of 2011 — and unfortunately it was not the last. It was preceded by nearly 30 uses that did not reach the extent of the impact of the Ghouta massacre but had nevertheless prompted the UN investigation.
As we reach the ninth anniversary of the horrific chemical weapons attack, survivors of the Ghouta massacre continue to live with its devastating aftermath, physical as well as psychological, even as the Assad regime continues its siege on the people of Syria with impunity, so far avoiding the imposition of international justice for its many crimes.
The 2013 chemical weapons massacre constituted, from that moment, direct evidence of Bashar Assad’s intentional killing of civilians revolting against his regime. As a result, Assad was forced under international pressure to comply with a Putin-brokered deal with the United States requiring him to hand over a large part of his chemical arsenal to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
About two months after the massacre, the Security Council unanimously issued Resolution No. 2118 condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria and calling for the disarmament and destruction of these weapons. The resolution further stated that in the event of failure to comply with the terms of the disposal of chemical weapons, the Council would resort to further measures under Chapter VII.
Many reports by international organizations have been published since then, all of which emphasize that the Syrian regime has still not been held accountable for the massacres it committed in which quantities of “sarin” gas were used on the people of Ghouta while they were sleeping which led to the air being silent and the toxic gasses, which are heavier than air, falling upon the most vulnerable citizens as they lay in their small beds.