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Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons cause widespread death and permanent injury. Once released, these difficult-to-control poisons kill indiscriminately; children, the elderly, and the chronically-ill are particularly vulnerable.

In the wake of World War II, after toxic gases claimed more than one million military and civilian casualties, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned chemical warfare. Yet nearly 100 years later, governments continue to deploy poisonous weapons of mass destruction in battle — and against civilians — killing thousands and terrorizing entire populations.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has conducted a broad range of advocacy around stopping the use of chemical weapons. We called for an updated chemical arms control agreement, which contributed to the passage of the Chemical Weapons Convention, outlawing the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.

As you can see below, we have also created materials to assist health professionals in recognizing and treating exposure to these chemical warfare agents, and documented the use of chemical weapons in a number of reports. In this New York Times article, you can find PHR information on what is necessary to conclusively document the use of chemical weapons.

Fact Sheets

These chemical weapons fact sheets are meant to provide guidance to health professionals who may become first responders in such attacks, and to help them identify, treat, and document exposure to chemical weapons.

This fact sheet provides a general overview of the deadly effects of nerve agents, as well as the procedure for the professional documentation of evidence of chemical warfare agents use and exposure.

PHR Reports

Winds of Death
A PHR team traveled to the Turkey-Iraq border in 1988 to investigate claims that the government of Saddam Hussein had devastated Kurdish villages with poisonous gas. Our report, Winds of Death, provided evidence that Iraq had used mustard gas and, most likely, a lethal nerve agent in attacks on civilians in dozens of Kurdish villages. The revelation led to front-page coverage on the New York Times and prompted U.S. Senate hearings about chemical weapons.

Bloody Sunday
A team of PHR physicians led a fact-finding investigation in Tbilisi, Georgia (then part of the Soviet Union) in May 1989 in response to allegations that toxic gas or gases had been used by troops from the Soviet Ministries of Defense on April 9, 1989. The findings were compiled in PHR's report, Bloody Sunday.

Unquiet Graves
Middle East Watch (now Human Rights Watch) and PHR sent a delegation to northern Iraq in December 1991 to observe and assist in the exhumation, identification, and determination of the probable cause and manner of death of individuals interred in mass and single, unmarked graves. PHR's report, Unquiet Graves, found that Saddam Hussein’s government and his Ba'ath party were responsible not only for gassing, deporting, and massacring Kurds, but also for destroying some 4,000 Kurdish villages.