[JURIST] The UN team investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria reported [press release] on Thursday that it has found credible evidence that chemical weapons have been used on numerous occasions throughout the Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder]. The Mission to Investigate Allegations of Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic confirmed [JURIST report] in September that chemical weapons had been used on August 21, but has now found evidence of chemical weapons use on several other occasions, including on August 24 and March 19. Its findings were based on a number of sources, including examination of exploded surfaces, environmental contamination, medical information from patients treated in the areas and interviews of survivors. The team also found some evidence of use of chemical weapons on August 25, August 22 and April 13, but was unable to find enough evidence to establish probable cause that they were used on those dates. The team did not express in its findings which party to the conflict it believes used the weapons, as determination of that issue was not part of the team’s mission. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon [official website] will present the team’s findings in a close session to the General Assembly [official website] on Friday afternoon.
Syria has been under international pressure lately to end its civil war that began in 2011 after numerous allegations that war crimes have been committed on both sides of the conflict. Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that there was an abundance of evidence supporting allegations that high-ranking Syrian officials have committed crimes against humanity [JURIST report]. Last month, however, JURIST guest columnist Leslie Esbrook [JURIST op-ed] argued that even prosecution of war crimes will not end the civil war in the country and that the international focus should instead be on helping the Syrian people and ending the conflict at this point. Her column was written in response to a Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] report that alleged rebel fighters in the country were guilty of war crimes [JURIST report] and the killing of at least 190 civilians. In September, the UN called on the international community to stop supplying weapons [JURIST report] to both sides of the conflict, stating that both sides have been responsible for deaths of civilians.