Ban warns of 'weakening taboo' as U.N. investigates chemical weapons in Syria

Chemical weapons could become "normalized" if those responsible for their use are not held accountable, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a letter circulated Monday. 

Bassam Khabieh/ Reuters
A man inspects the damage at a site hit by an airstrike in the rebel-held Douma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria November 7, 2016.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm at "the weakening taboo" against using chemical weapons in Syria, where the international watchdog said it is studying several recent cases of alleged use of the banned agents, according to a letter circulated Monday.

The U.N. chief said in a letter to the Security Council transmitting the monthly report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that he is gravely concerned that the use of chemical weapons could become "normalized in this or any conflict, present or future."

"It is imperative that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons should be held accountable," Ban told the council in the letter.

The OPCW said in its report covering the period from Sept. 23 to Oct. 22 that its fact-finding mission is studying four widely reported allegations of chemical weapons use, and is investigating the alleged use of a chemical agent in Aleppo on Aug. 2 at the request of the Syrian government.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said the organization's fact-finding mission continues studying all available information of alleged chemical weapons use "with a particular focus on widely reported incidents" in the Saraqib in Idlib governorate, and three incidents in the Aleppo governorate – in Aleppo city, Zubdiya, and Al Sukkari.

He did not provide details but said "the intensity of the ongoing conflict in Aleppo is a major challenge" to the mission's work.

Uzumcu said an OPCW team was sent to Damascus from Oct. 12-19 in response to the Syrian government's request to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons on Aug. 2 in the area of Al-Awamid in Aleppo. He said it will continue to work with Syrian authorities to gather more information.

The OPCW has a mandate to carry out fact-finding missions to determine whether chemical attacks occurred in Syria, but not to determine responsibility. In September 2014, the Security Council established an international body to assign blame for chemical attacks.

That body, the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, has already determined that the Syrian government was behind three attacks involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State extremist group was responsible for one involving mustard gas.

Syria's government has been repeatedly accused by the United States and other Western countries of using chemical weapons on its own people, even after the Security Council in 2013 ordered the elimination of its chemical weapons program following an attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of civilians.

The council last year also condemned the use of toxic chemicals like chlorine after growing reports of barrel bombs filled with chlorine gas being dropped on opposition-held areas. Chlorine is widely available and not officially considered a warfare agent, but its use as a weapon is illegal.

Uzumcu said poor security has prevented the destruction of Syria's remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities. He said questions also remain over its initial declaration of its chemical holdings.

Ban retierated the need for the Syrian government and the OPCW "to work together to resolve all identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies" in the declaration.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Ban warns of 'weakening taboo' as U.N. investigates chemical weapons in Syria
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today