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Syria’s Ghouta chemical attack: Exiled activists seek justice for 2013 atrocity

Syria's Ghouta chemical attack: Exiled activists seek justice for 2013 atrocity

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In August 2013, a chemical attack using sarin gas was perpetrated in Syria’s Ghouta region, northeast of Damascus, killing some 1,400 people. Attributed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the crime remains unpunished to this day. But Syrian refugees in Europe are fighting for justice. Activists, lawyers and witnesses have set out to track down those responsible, some of whom live in France. Yet many obstacles remain: the few witnesses living in exile fear reprisals on their families who have stayed behind, while there is no access to Assad’s Syria, making it impossible to carry out investigations on the ground. FRANCE 24’s Dana Alboz brings us this exclusive 27-minute documentary. Warning: viewers may find some images upsetting.

On August 21, 2013, the Eastern Ghouta region, northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus, was targeted by missiles containing sarin, a fatal nerve gas. NGOs and medical teams on the ground put the death toll from the attack at around 1,400 people – more than half of them women and children. According to the NGOs, the attack was far from isolated: a total of 222 chemical attacks are thought to have been carried out in Syria.

At the UN Security Council, any condemnation of the Damascus regime was rendered impossible by the twin vetoes of Russia and China. Moscow, a staunch ally of Syria, used its veto power no less than six times to prevent any condemnation of the use of chemical weapons. Faced with this stalemate at the international level, Syrian refugees have turned to national courts in the European countries where they have found refuge, such as France.

Read more‘It was like the apocalypse’: Syrians recall chemical attack, 10 years on

The investigation by French authorities into the attack helped reveal the workings of the Syrian military chain of command. In an unprecedented decision, the French investigating magistrates issued an arrest warrant for Assad and three other senior officials. The charges against the Syrian regime are serious: crimes against humanity and war crimes. But any trial of the Syrian leader, who is still in office, remains a long way off – much to the disappointment of the victims and their families.

In this documentary, FRANCE 24’s Dana Alboz met witnesses to the horror of August 21, 2013, Syrian activists in exile, as well as the first prosecutor to head up the French anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office.

An exclusive documentary by Dana Alboz, journalist for InfoMigrants and FRANCE 24.

Video editing by Julia Boudet.

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