Use of chemical weapons in Syria – Switzerland's position

Press releases, 27.01.2023

Switzerland takes note of the third report of the Investigation and Identification Team of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was mandated to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Douma on 7 April 2018. Switzerland strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons and calls on all parties to the conflict in Syria to refrain from using them and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. Those responsible for crimes under international law in Syria must be held accountable.

For its third report, published on 27 January 2023, the OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) investigated the use of chemical weapons in Douma, a city ten kilometres northeast of Damascus. The IIT has stated that there are justifiable reasons to conclude that the perpetrators were individuals who were members of the Syrian Arab Air Force at the time of the attack. The IIT sets out the proof that at least one helicopter of the Tiger Forces dropped two chlorine gas cylinders on two residential buildings in the Douma area inhabited by civilians on the evening of 7 April 2018. This attack killed 43 people and harmed dozens of others.

Switzerland, represented at the OPCW by Ambassador Heinz Walker, condemns in the strongest of terms the use of chemical weapons in Syria. All parties to the conflict are prohibited from using such weapons at all times and under all circumstances. Switzerland calls on all parties to the conflict in Syria to respect international law and in particular international humanitarian law. As a follow-up to this report, Switzerland demands that those responsible for this operation be held accountable. As a current UN Security Council member, Switzerland also advocates for respect for international law. Moreover, Switzerland is committed to strengthening the International Criminal Court in order to curb the rampant climate of impunity surrounding the most serious crimes and to ensure the protection of the civilian population and other war victims.

Establishing the facts is of crucial importance to prevent future attacks and ensure that serious crimes of this nature do not go unpunished. The IIT receives political and financial support from many OPCW member states, including Switzerland, which also supports other international efforts aimed at documenting these and other types of crimes under international law, no matter which party has committed them, and holding those responsible to account. Such efforts are made by bodies including UN mechanisms such as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria and by Syrian NGOs.

Switzerland will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people affected by the conflict in Syria as well as to neighbouring countries which have taken in the majority of those displaced. In addition, it will continue to offer its good offices to facilitate a lasting peace in Syria. A key element of this is its support for the UN peace process in Geneva.

Further information:

Principles and objectives of Swiss disarmament policy
Chemical weapons
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

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