For the first time ever, the UN just declared Assad used chemical weapons on Syrians
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State have both used chemical weapons on ordinary citizens, a joint report issued Wednesday by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said.
The findings are not available to the public, intended only for the U.N. Security Council — notwithstanding restrictive access, various media outlets, such as the New York Times and Reuters, read the report.
While other investigations concluded that chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, neither Assad nor ISIS have been accused of being the perpetrators before Wednesday.
Chlorine was used in eight of the nine chemical attacks the UN and UPCW examined, Reuters reports. The war has left more than 250,000 Syrians dead, 1 million injured in attacks — such as those involving chemical weapons — and 11 million displaced.
"It is essential that the members of the Security Council come together to ensure consequences for those who have used chemical weapons in Syria," Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement Wednesday.
"We strongly urge all states to support strong and swift action by the Security Council," Power also said.
In September 2013, Assad, under mounting international pressure, agreed to a U.N. resolution which prohibited the use, development or transference of chemical weapons.
"[I]n the event of non-compliance, it would impose 'Chapter VII' measures," the Security Council said in a statement at the time.
Chapter VII of the U.N. charter states any "breach of the peace" — in this instance, the use of chemical weapons — is an actionable offense.
"The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken ... to maintain or restore international peace and security," it reads.
However, any sanctions or response necessitates the affirmative votes of the Security Council's five permanent members of Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States. Russia and China have repeatedly used their veto power to protect Assad, which many suspect will happen on any vote that arises as a result of this recent report.
Furthermore, Russia has actively involved itself in the war, using airstrikes to ostensibly fight ISIS; but the airstrikes, many contend, are designed to support the Assad regime.
"Syrians are paying with their lives for the council's inability to agree on how to end mass atrocities there," said Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, in 2015, according to Al Jazeera.
"Nobody disagrees they occur, including those who veto resolutions and directly exacerbate this war by signaling that perpetrators will not be held accountable," he added.
While addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 28, French President Francois Hollande implicitly condemned China and Russia for vetoing action in Syria.
"How can the U.N. remain paralyzed when the worst is unfolding in front of our eyes?" he asked.
With two likely Security Council vetoes, the matter of whether or not Wednesday's report will result in any action hangs in the balance.