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UN report affirms nerve gas used in Syria, fueling demands for accountability (+video)

UN weapons inspectors reported finding 'clear and convincing evidence' that the nerve gas sarin was used in Syria. UN chief Ban Ki-moon and rights groups say those responsible must be punished.

By Staff writer / September 16, 2013

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the media after briefing the Security Council on the UN chemical weapons report on the use of chemical weapons by Syria at the United Nations in New York Sept. 16, 2013. UN chemical investigators on Monday confirmed the use of the nerve gas sarin in Syria.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

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Washington

Demands that the perpetrators of Syria’s chemical weapons attacks be determined and held accountable are multiplying after a report by United Nations weapons inspectors released Monday found “clear and convincing evidence” that the nerve gas sarin was used in the attacks on Damascus suburbs last month.

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UN leader Ban Ki-moon condemns chemical weapon attacks in Syria as a war crime and says UN investigators have indisputable evidence of their use.

In presenting the weapons inspectors’ report to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the Aug. 21 attack a “war crime” and demanded that those responsible for the attack be punished.

“The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable,” Mr. Ban told the Council, “and to ensure that chemical weapons never reemerge as an instrument of warfare.”

A number of international human rights organizations seized on Monday’s report to demand that Western leaders stick to their insistence that a Security Council resolution expected as early as this week on Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile include measures for holding the perpetrators of the attacks accountable.

But with Russia – one of five veto-wielding members of the Security Council and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s principal supporter – rejecting the inclusion of enforcement measures in any forthcoming Council resolution, it remains unclear how and when accountability might be accomplished.

In comments to the press following his Council presentation, Ban noted that the inspectors’ mandate did not include fixing responsibility for the attacks. But he said the world would expect the Security Council to face up to its “responsibilities” to ensure that there is no impunity for what he said was the “most significant case of chemical weapons use” since Saddam Hussein gassed the Iraqi Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988.

“There must be accountability for the use of chemical weapons,” Ban said.

The United States and its allies, including France and Britain, had already concluded that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in the Aug. 21 attacks on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. But Monday’s report was the first confirmation by scientific experts dispatched to the site by an international body.

The US says the attack, carried out by surface-to-surface rockets, was the work of the Assad regime. Russia, on the other hand, claims the attack was carried out by Mr. Assad’s opposition.

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