On the basis of “clear and convincing evidence” obtained during its investigation, the UN Mission team has now concluded that Sarin gas was used in an incident which occurred in the Ghouta area on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, on 21 August; and that ”surface-to-surface rockets which contained Sarin gas were used in Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah, and Zamalka. The deadly gas was used against civilians -- including children -- and “on a relatively large scale.”
Dr. Ake Sellström’s team -- the Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic -- was established on 21 March by the Secretary-General, and was already in Syria at the time of the 21 August incident. The Mission also had help from several experts from the World Health Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
“This is a war crime,” said the Secretary-General:
"There must be accountability for the use of chemical weapons. Any use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, is a crime,’ said Mr. Ban, stressing: “But our message today must be more than: Do not slaughter your people with gas. There must also be no impunity for the crimes being committed with conventional weapons.
The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable and to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.”
Mr. Ban noted that the agreement by Syria to the Chemical Weapons Convention and its acknowledging that Syria is in possession of chemical weapons are both welcome developments which also come with obligations:
“It is for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further to determine responsibility. We may all have our own thoughts on this, but I would simply say that this was a grave crime and those responsible must be brought to justice as soon as possible.”
The Secretary General also noted the understanding that Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry had come to with respect to the disposition and destruction of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons:
“I hope the Security Council and the Executive Council of the OPCW can move quickly to consider and implement this plan. I stand ready to support this plan in every way possible, while also fully realizing the complexities of such an undertaking in the midst of a civil war.
The unity of the Security Council will be crucial. Given the gravity of the situation, I urge the Council to consider ways to ensure enforcement of, and compliance with, the plan through a clear resolution."
Another aspect of this crisis is the humanitarian challenge to the United Nations, which is urgent:
"Families face intolerable choices between the risk of remaining in place and the risk of taking flight. Communities that once lived in relative harmony are now torn with sectarian tension.
We need to do everything we can to bring the parties to the negotiating table. This is the only path to a durable solution. I stand ready to convene the International Conference on Syria in Geneva as soon as possible.”
The Secretary General will meet with Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry on 28 September, and a date for the conference should be settled presently.