Call for Investigation: Chemical Weapons in Syria

Allegations this week by Syrian opposition forces that the Syrian military attacked rebels and civilians outside of Aleppo on March 19 with a SCUD missile armed with an unidentified chemical agent have raised very serious questions about possible escalation in the ongoing violence in Syria. Russia has also alleged, contrary to most reports, the attack came from Syrian rebel forces and not from President Bashar Assad's troops. A similar allegation was made last December when some observers stated that a chemical weapons attack occurred in Homs. We have worked for two decades now to facilitate the safe and sound elimination of chemical weapons stockpiles, and the response to these reports of any possible use of chemical weapons should be an immediate international investigation of the allegations.

With the growing international concern over Assad's acknowledged chemical weapons stockpile, including this latest possible use, it is incumbent on the United Nations to launch an investigation of the forensic evidence of the use of these outlawed weapons of mass destruction. This should include an examination of the alleged SCUD missile launch as well as autopsies of the victims of the attack. Only with more credible evidence will we be able to draw any conclusions from this incident.

Syria is one of only eight countries remaining outside of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which now counts 188 countries as member states. The CWC entered into force in 1997 and bans the development, deployment, stockpiling, and use of any toxic chemical agents in warfare. It also requires the safe and irreversible elimination of all chemical weapons stockpiles. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague oversees the verified destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles declared in seven States Parties, the large majority of which sit in the United States and Russia.

We are pleased to see the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon call the possible use of any chemical agent "outrageous," and the OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu label such use  as "reprehensible." But we have to get to the bottom of these allegations, and the only way to do this is for an international team of inspectors to examine the available evidence. It is in the interest of all parties to do this before the conflict escalates and endangers thousands of additional innocent civilians.