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For Immediate Release

Independent Investigation Needed to Assess Chemical Weapons Allegations in Syria

Cambridge, MA - 03/20/2013

PHR is concerned over reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria, and calls for a thorough independent investigation to be conducted immediately.

Early reports about Tuesday’s incident are conflicting, and the fact that false alarms have previously been raised about the use of such weapons suggests the need for extreme caution before jumping to conclusions.

“Reports emerging in the past 24 hours about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria are extremely disturbing,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “A top priority must be to assess the truth of the claims scientifically and impartially. The Syrian government and opposition forces alike must permit independent medical and scientific experts on chemical weapons to investigate and document the deaths and injuries to determine their cause.”

Syria’s state news agency reported Tuesday that rebels fired rockets containing unidentified chemical agents in the town of Khan al-Assal in Aleppo Province, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 100. News video showed patients, many wearing oxygen masks, being treated in hospital wards.

Opposition forces have denied culpability for the attack, and each side accused the other of having resorted to chemical weapons. Even though Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, it is bound, as are all countries, by customary international law regarding warfare. Nearly all the world’s nations have condemned the use of chemical weapons, which have been banned for more than a century because of their capacity to kill and injure arbitrarily, indiscriminately, and on a massive scale.

More than 70,000 people are estimated to have died during the Syrian conflict, and more than 1 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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