The chemical attack on civilians in the town of Douma is a war crime that bears the hallmarks of the Assad regime, but its ally Russia shares potential criminal responsibility for its use, head of Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of the activist group, said countries should consider putting pressure on President Vladimir Putin ahead of Russia hosting the World Cup in June, as Assad was already “a man who has no reputation left.”
“The use of chemical weapons is inherently a war crime. Add on top of that the people here who seem to have been targeted – which is typical for the Assad government – have been civilians,” Roth said in an interview with Reuters in his Geneva office on Monday.
“This use of chemical weapons against civilians sheltering in their basements is part of a broad pattern, not simply a pattern of chemical weapons use but a pattern of targeting civilians who happen to live in areas held by the opposition.”
These attacks constituted grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions which should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) or by a future special court on Syria, said Roth, an American lawyer who has headed the group since 1993.
Witnesses have reported that an Assad regime helicopter dropped a chemical cylinder that was later found in the site of the attack, Roth said.
The UN Security Council on Monday held an emergency meeting to discuss the Assad regime’s chemical attack on the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta. The Syrian Coalition called for holding the Assad regime accountable for the repeated use of chemical weapons and for the referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The United States “will respond” to the deadly chemical weapons attack regardless of whether the United Nations Security Council acts or not, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said.
The attack, in which nearly 100 civilians were killed and hundreds more injured, sparked widespread condemnation by Arab and Western countries. Officials called for the launch of military strikes against Assad’s army positions and airbases in response to the massacre. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)