UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Syrian chemical weapons allegations “exceptionally grave,” investigation is essential

Press Release GENEVA (22 August 2013) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay strongly condemned Thursday the reported killing of hundreds of civilians – including many women and children -- in the Damascus suburbs on Wednesday, and said the allegations that many deaths were the result of the use of chemical weapons must be investigated “as a matter of utmost urgency.”

“The Secretary-General’s team, headed by Dr. Sellstrom, is currently in Syria,” Pillay said. “I urge the Government and opposition forces to enable them to examine the site of the alleged attacks without any delay or obfuscation.”

“The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under customary international law,” the High Commissioner said. “This absolute prohibition applies in all circumstances, including armed conflict. As a norm of customary international law, it is binding on the Government despite it not being party to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. It is also binding on anti-Government armed groups.”

“These allegations are exceptionally grave and need to be comprehensively proved or disproved as soon as is humanly possible,” she added. “Whether or not chemical weapons were in fact used, it seems that once again in Syria many civilians have been killed in flagrant contravention of international law.”

Pillay said her staff in the region had managed to contact well-placed sources inside Syria who report that, in addition to those killed, there are thousands of injured people in desperate need of medical care and humanitarian aid. Parts of the affected suburb of Al Ghouta were already suffering from protracted and severe shortages of supplies before the events of recent days.

“I understand shelling and fighting have continued today,” Pillay said. “I call on all parties to halt the fighting immediately and allow access to humanitarian aid and essential medical supplies, in order to prevent more needless deaths.”

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