A Syrian government forces soldier talking with a woman in a destroyed street in the former rebel-held town of Zamalka in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. AFP PIC

IT'S time for the world to put aside its differences and unite to jointly condemn and take a stern stand, including legal action, against those responsible for the latest reported chemical attack last Saturday in Douma, the last rebel-held stronghold near Syria’s capital, Damascus. Dozens of people were killed in the attack, and hundreds of others were injured.

On record, this is not the first time a chemical weapon is reported to have been used in the long Syrian conflict. Last year, hundreds of civilians in the city of Idlib, northwestern Syria, became victims of a chemical weapon attack on the city. Though no one has yet to claim responsibility for the latest and many previous similar deadly attacks, many are pointing fingers at the current Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al- Assad.

The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under international laws and international treaties. Anyone who violates these laws and treaties can be subjected to a war crime charge. The international law and treaties include The Hague Declaration concerning Asphyxiating Gases, the Geneva Gas Protocol, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The use of chemical weapons is also a violation of international humanitarian law reflected in the Geneva Conventions, its Additional Protocols, the Hague Regulations, and customary international humanitarian laws. Violations include targeting civilians, indiscriminate attacks and the infliction of unnecessary suffering.

Though Syria is a party to the Geneva Gas Protocol, it is not a party to CWC. Syria is not even a party to ICC. Since Syria is not a party to ICC, the ICC prosecutor will not be able to pursue the matter against the Syrian regime, including Assad.

The best option is to urge the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to take the matter to the ICC. Article 13 of the Rome Statute of the ICC recognises the UNSC’s authority to refer cases to the court.

In 2005, the UNSC exercised such power when it referred to the ICC the prevailing situation in Darfur. (Sudan is not a party to the Rome Statute.) In 2011, the UNSC made a second referral to the ICC in order to investigate the Libyan government’s use of violence in the Libyan civil war. The UNSC should be persuaded again to have an emergency meeting on the latest development in Syria and refer all the reported chemical attacks which allegedly took place to the ICC. This would allow the ICC to carry out investigations and immediately identify, as well as bring the perpetrator to justice.

The step to bring the matter to ICC is very important as it will give a clear signal to the Syrian regime and to all that their actions are under constant watch and will be scrutinised by the international community. They cannot do whatever they want at the expense of innocent civilians. They will need to take responsibility for any action which violates international laws and treaties.

As Syria is still facing a civil war, it is the duty of the Syrian government to protect its citizens. It should not behave in a manner which can further jeopardise its already fragile position in the world due to the ongoing conflict.

Dr Muzaffar Syah Mallow,

Senior lecturer,Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia

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