On 4th April 2017, the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria was hit by a monstrous chemical attack. At least 70 people, including civilians and medical aid workers, were killed and over 550 men, women and children have been injured making it the deadliest chemical attack since 2013, which occurred just outside Damascus. According to international health workers, the wounds are “consistent with exposure to neuro-toxic agents” which many believe to be sarin nerve gas. Sarin is used as a weapon of mass destruction because of its incredible life-threatening strength. The manufacturing and holding of sarin was banned in April 1997 under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
The images of the aftermath are beyond horrific, and world leaders and diplomats, especially the American, French and British ambassadors within the UN, are rightfully urging for someone to be held accountable. The Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has denied responsibility of the attack (remember the deal brokered by Russia and America in 2013 where Syria agreed to give up its chemical arsenal). Russia has been quick to jump on the defence as they were also publicly accused during an emergency United Nations meeting which, funnily enough, was called for by Russia.
A mere 63 hours after the chemical attack US President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike on Al Shayrat military base launching 59 tomahawk cruise missiles from US Navy warships stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. Nine civilians and seven soldiers were killed. Trump has publicly accused and condemned the Syrian President which has been further translated by the United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley:
“When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action… the Joint Investigative Mechanism has found beyond doubt that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own people multiple times.”
Keeping in mind that all are innocent until proven guilty, I think it’s fair to say that Trump has advantageously used this global outrage to prove that the United States is still and always will be a force to be reckoned with, no matter how hard the rest of the world mocks them.
It is common knowledge that chemical weapons use is an aggressive violation of international law. In 1925 (bear with me on this one) the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous and Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (you may breathe now) was agreed to by a large number of states. Despite this, investigations by the U.N. and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found the Syrian regime responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015. Donald Trump was the first to get the ball rolling by stating “it is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” On the contrary, Russia, China and Bolivia all vetoed the UN’s resolution on Syrian sanctions for the use of chemical weapons. Russia and China have both been criticised by Nikki Haley and Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, who have mutually questioned the countries supposed influence on the Syrian government. Although international law, at the end of the day, cannot put a stop to Assad’s regime, the fact that countries can exert certain political pressures will hopefully aid attempts to collapse the government’s oppressive position.
With Syria now in its sixth year of hell on Earth, where basic humanitarian aid is denied to its own people and torture and mass killings are commonplace, it is more important than ever that we do not let ourselves become immune to the horrors committed. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are still in urgent need of basic humanitarian resources (water, food, shelter) and the death toll has already exceeded 400,000. With all the failed negotiations to end this senseless killing it is so easy to lose hope but the constant support of neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon further endorsed by the United Nations and countries around the world has given the innocent victims of the Syrian conflict a fighting chance. The incredible hospitality of some Middle Eastern and Western countries along with the constant efforts to fight ‘compassion fatigue’ has helped Syrian refugees retain their dignity. Undoubtedly a show of global appreciation for all of the refugees that Syria has taken in throughout history.
Kate London is a student at The University of Western Australia, studying a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Law and Psychology). When Kate isn’t researching human rights atrocities, she enjoys distracting herself by listening to 90’s Hip-Hop & R’n’B, wearing denim, and thinking about how she was born in the wrong decade.