Human Rights Watch is accusing the Syrian government of using chemical weapons at least eight times during the siege of Aleppo and is asking the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on the regime.
According to a statement from HRW, based on “phone and in-person interviews with witnesses and analysis of video footage, photographs, and posts on social media,” Syrian government helicopters dropped chlorine gas on residential areas in Aleppo at least eight times in November and December of 2016.
“The attacks, some of which included multiple munitions, killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200,” the statement alleges.
“The pattern of the chlorine attacks shows that they were coordinated with the overall military strategy for retaking Aleppo, not the work of a few rogue elements,” said Human Rights Watch Deputy Emergencies Director Ole Solvang. “The United Nations Security Council shouldn’t let Syrian authorities or anyone else who has used chemical weapons get away without consequences.”
As the HRW statement observes, the Security Council has yet to take action after U.N. investigations uncovered previous chlorine attacks in Syria. Also, Human Rights Watch accused the Syrian government of using sarin gas in August 2013.
“The assertions in the study, if confirmed, would represent one of the most egregious uses of such outlawed weaponry in the war,” comments the New York Times. “It would amount to a new level of impunity by the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, who promised to never use chemical arms under an international treaty the government signed more than three years ago.”
The Times notes that reports have accused the Syrian government in the past of using chlorine gas in a report by the Atlantic Council released this week. Those reports further accused Syrian forces and their Russian allies of indiscriminately using heavy explosive weapons to target civilian structures, including hospitals.
Human Rights Watch said it had no evidence Russia was directly involved in chemical attacks on Aleppo. However, the group’s U.N. director, Louis Charbonneau, noted Russia is “a close military ally of the Syrian government” and “involved on the ground,” so it should have taken measures to “ensure that these weapons were not being used.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov immediately dismissed the Human Rights Watch report as the work of “amateurs” who get their data from “social networks and stories by unknown anonymous eyewitnesses by phone.” He claimed there was stronger evidence of chemical weapons use by the Syrian opposition.