(New York) – New evidence supports the conclusion that Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions in recent months: on April 4, 2017, in a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 90 people, and on three other occasions in December 2016 and March 2017, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
These attacks are part of a broader pattern of Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons. The attacks are widespread and systematic and in some cases have been directed against the civilian population. These two features mean the attacks could meet the legal standard required to characterize them as crimes against humanity. As part of the evidence showing these attacks have become widespread and systematic, the 48-page report, “Death by Chemicals: The Syrian Government’s Widespread and Systematic Use of Chemical Weapons,” identifies three different systems being used to deliver chemical weapons:
- Government warplanes appear to have dropped bombs with nerve agents on at least four occasions since December 12;
- Government helicopter-dropped chlorine-filled munitions have become more systematic;
- Government or pro-government ground forces have started using improvised ground-launched munitions filled with chlorine.
In at least some of the attacks, the intention appears to have been to inflict severe suffering on the civilian population.
The report, press release, and a graphic have been corrected to reflect the following changes:
- Human Rights Watch identified bomb fragments from the impact crater associated with the attack as consistent with a 250 kilogram Soviet-manufactured chemical munition. We described this munition as most likely a "KhAB-250," an abbreviation of the commonly used Russian term Khimicheskaya Aviatsionnaya Bomba, or “Chemical Aviation Bomb." However, the official nomenclature for this class of weapon is inconsistent, and we have removed the term "KhAB-250" from the report and press release to avoid confusion. We have also updated the report to reflect that the Soviet Union produced several types of chemical munitions, rather than two types as we originally said. A new appendix sets out in further detail the available information about sarin bombs produced by the Soviet Union.
- The original version of this report incorrectly recorded the measurements of the impact crater in the road in Khan Sheikhoun recorded by Forensic Architecture as 1.62 centimeters in diameter and 0.42 centimeters deep. The unit of measure has been corrected to be meters, not centimeters.
- Members of the al-Youssef family and other sources provided Human Rights Watch with the names of 25 people from the al-Youssef family they believed to be dead. Two of the people on the list were injured, but survived, bringing the number of the dead to 90, not 92.