Opposition’s Chief Negotiator: Assad Must Be Held to Account for War Crimes
Mohammed Sabra, chief negotiator in the delegation of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) to Geneva talks said that the aerial attacks the Assad regime has launched using chemical weapons against civilians, including the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rural Idlib constitute war crimes. He added that the UN set up an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate these crimes.
In a teleconference by members of the HNC mission to the Geneva talks and representatives of civil bodies in Idlib province, Sabra underscored that the Assad regime is using chemical weapons to make political gains and to cling on to power.
A recent report by a fact- finding mission (FFM) of The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that “a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance” in the attack on Khan Sheikhoun.
Hanadi Abu Arab, member of the HNC advisory board, pointed to a continuous push to hold the Assad regime accountable for the war crimes it has committed against the Syrian people over the past six years. Rights groups have recently asked the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria after the Commission obtained compelling evidence proving that Bashar al-Assad is behind these attacks.
In December 2016, the UN General Assembly set up an independent panel to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious violations of international law in Syria.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres in early July announced the appointment of Catherine Marchi-Uhel of France as the head of the independent panel which will be based in Geneva, Switzerland. Marchi-Uhel was previously a judge in France and an international judge at the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, and at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
A joint UN-OPCW panel charged with assigning responsibility for chemical weapons attacks Syria on July 5 was facing heavy political pressure as it was preparing to present its findings on the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, head of the panel said.
After meeting behind closed doors with the UN Security Council, Edmond Mulet complained of a “highly-politicized environment” in which unidentified “interested parties” were seeking to influence the panel.
“We do receive, unfortunately, direct and indirect messages all the time from many sides telling us how to do our work,” Mulet said. “Some of these messages are very clear in saying that if we don’t do our work according to them… then they will not accept the conclusions of our work,” he added.
Civil society groups in the town of Khan Sheikoun in rural Idlib on Thursday organized a sit-in to mark 100 days since the deadly chemical attack launched by Assad’s forces on the town and which left around 400 civilians killed and wounded.
Survivors of the attack and families of the victims as well as members of the local council participated in the sit-in. Participants raised placards condemning the silence of the international community over the massacre and banners that read “Assad is a war criminal” and “you only killed the fear in us.”