Taking a breath turns into more and more tough, foam begins pouring out of your mouth, your imaginative and prescient turns into blurred and your heartbeat slows proper down. Then the convulsions take over.
“Then we surrendered to dying,” mentioned Dr Salim Namour, describing the signs of sarin fuel inhalation. He skilled them twice whereas treating the wounded in Ghouta, Syria, in August 2013, when the regime of President Bashar al-Assad launched a horrific chemical weapons assault on Douma and japanese Ghouta.
“We had been destined to reside, however not everybody survived.”
Right now, Namour heads the Affiliation of Victims of Chemical Weapons (AVCW), one of many organisations that introduced a lawsuit which has led to the problem of a French arrest warrant in opposition to the al-Assad and three senior officers for the chemical bloodbath which killed greater than 1,100 individuals.
“The worst results of publicity to chemical weapons are the deep psychological trauma, the reminiscences of suffocation and the reminiscences of these we misplaced and cherished,” Namour informed Al Jazeera. Remembering the phobia that befell the a whole bunch of hundreds who had been besieged in Ghouta, he mentioned: “They died whereas they had been hungry and dreaming of a loaf of bread, and the youngsters died dreaming of a toy.”
‘Bitterness and disappointment’
Ten years in the past, the chemical weapons bloodbath sparked world outrage, and a focus turned to Barack Obama, the then-United States president, who had mentioned that the usage of chemical weapons in Syria was a “crimson line”.
Regardless of a mountain of proof in opposition to the regime over the usage of chemical warfare on civilian populations, Obama’s “crimson line” culminated in nothing greater than the choice to destroy the chemical weapons arsenal in Syria.
Syria agreed in 2013 to hitch the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) world watchdog and quit all chemical weapons.
This left “a sense of bitterness and disappointment” for the survivors, in response to Namour, as they believed it allowed al-Assad to flee accountability and punishment.
In September 2013, the United Nations Safety Council issued Decision No 2118, which stipulated the necessity to maintain accountable these answerable for the usage of chemical weapons in Syria.
The OPCW introduced the completion of its destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons one 12 months after the bloodbath.
However, investigations have proved the usage of chemical weapons (equivalent to sarin and chlorine) by regime forces in opposition-controlled areas over the next years.
So, AVCW, together with the Syrian Heart for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the Syrian Archive, the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Civil Rights Defenders turned to the worldwide jurisdiction of France’s courts in a bid to carry these accountable accountable.
No immunity for battle criminals
The choice to problem an arrest warrant for al-Assad comes two years after the lawsuit was filed and proof and witnesses had been offered to the courtroom in France.
The case in opposition to al-Assad and the high-ranking army officers was bolstered by firsthand witness accounts and deep evaluation of the Syrian army chain of command, mentioned lawyer Mazen Darwish, founder and director of SCM.
Darwish described the arrest warrant as an “historic precedent” because it goals to carry accountable a serving president, who was beforehand thought-about to take pleasure in absolute immunity.
Darwish mentioned the proof “proves that it isn’t attainable for a army unit to make use of [chemical weapons] in opposition to civilians with out an order from the president of the Republic, who’s the commander-in-chief of the armed forces”.
Darwish mentioned he isn’t hopeful that the French trial will deliver full justice for the victims, which he believes ought to take the type of a political transition and a path in direction of transitional justice. Such a course of have to be based mostly on the ideas of stopping recurrence and revenge, and holding these accountable accountable, he mentioned.
The principle aim of submitting lawsuits in European courts, Darwish mentioned, is to maintain the precept of justice on the desk, to allow the voices of victims to be heard and to offer proof that these crimes are actual and never simply “political allegations” between conflicting events, because the Syrian regime and its supporters declare.
Halting normalisation with the Syrian regime can also be one of many objectives of this trial, which serves to remind those that welcome Bashar al-Assad that he’s a confirmed battle legal.
“As a Syrian refugee, I hope to return to my nation and have the ability to reside there with my kids,” Darwish mentioned. “For any nationwide trigger, solely the individuals are those who’re in a position to make a distinction.”
Remembering ‘city of the lifeless’
Mohamed Eid, 30, remembers the evening when his city, Zamalka, grew to become a “city of the lifeless” because the lethal fuel unfold by all its neighbourhoods, inflicting the deaths of total households inside minutes.
As a media activist, Eid picked up his digicam to attempt to doc what he was seeing. “I can’t neglect the family members and family we misplaced,” he informed Al Jazeera. “I noticed moms hugging their kids as they died, and a father who couldn’t breathe however was calling the rescuers to assist his son as a substitute of him.”
Eid mentioned he would contemplate any formal trial of al-Assad a “victory”, though he would like it to happen in Syrian courts. “However the time shouldn’t be appropriate as a result of the regime remains to be in energy and continues to commit crimes to today, as we see in Idlib,” he mentioned, referring to the continual bombing by regime forces of areas outdoors its management within the northwest of the nation.
Amin al-Sheikh, 48, obtained the information of the arrest warrant with a combination of “warning and indifference” as a result of he believes that France has pursuits “aside from justice for the victims”. He’s offended that France allowed Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of the Syrian President, to depart France and return to Syria in 2021, regardless of having been sentenced to jail for utilizing funds diverted from Syria to purchase French property.
“They’re mendacity to us and won’t do us justice. I’d be ashamed of myself if I believed them or trusted them, and I cannot change my convictions till I see concrete steps that start to delegitimise this regime,” al-Sheikh mentioned.
‘Don’t suffocate reality’
The horror of the chemical assaults has by no means left Mahmoud Buwaydani, even years after he grew to become a refugee in Turkey.
The school scholar was 16 years previous when the bloodbath occurred. “We had been accustomed to bombing, however this was totally different due to the variety of victims and the kind of weapons that weren’t typically used on the time,” he mentioned.
Buwaydani discovered of the arrest warrant in opposition to al-Assad with combined emotions, he mentioned. “I felt hope that we’d have the ability to prosecute the criminals and ache over the reminiscences which got here again to me.”
After being forcibly displaced to the north of Syria in 2018, Buwaydani started work to fight authorities propaganda and misinformation concerning the crimes he had witnessed, particularly the chemical bloodbath.
He volunteered with the “Don’t Suffocate the Fact” marketing campaign, which works to lift consciousness of what occurred in Ghouta and to inform the tales of victims and witnesses by its platforms. Buwaydani hasn’t misplaced hope, he mentioned. “We hope that we’ll have true accountability for these accountable.”
Different Syrian human rights organisations have additionally labored to file lawsuits in European courts and to assist worldwide efforts to carry the regime and people answerable for battle crimes accountable.
Radi Saad, a volunteer with the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets), mentioned any judicial resolution geared toward holding perpetrators of violations inside Syria accountable will go a great distance down the trail of justice and accountability.
On the identical time, the Civil Defence is working with the investigation groups of the OPCW to verify 146 incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria, after confirming 17 places and proving the Syrian regime’s accountability for 9 of these assaults.