AP Interview: Chief UN inspector calls for investigation on who used chemical weapons in Syria
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The chief U.N. chemical weapons investigator in Syria says there should be a new investigation to determine who was responsible for chemical weapons attacks that killed hundreds in the conflict-wracked country.
Ake Sellstrom led a team that confirmed the use of chemical weapons in a major attack on Aug. 21 near Damascus, and their probable use in four other locations against civilians and soldiers. His team's mandate was to determine whether chemical weapons were used - not to establish who was responsible.
He said in an interview with The Associated Press late Monday that if there is no accountability, "I will think it's sad."
Sellstrom said using chemical weapons is "a hideous crime ... so it's logical that this should be followed up and brought to court somehow, or brought to a tribunal, or brought to something."
He said his team gathered "lots of facts," but not enough to determine "the guilty party in this."
To determine who used chemical weapons, Sellstrom said, a much broader investigation is needed.
He told reporters last Friday that his team did not have the freedom of a police force in carrying out its investigation.
There are "a lot of other facts with the Syrian government, with the opposition, with several capitals," he told AP, citing possible information on transport of chemical weapons, on militias, and on conversations that may have been overheard and recorded as well as other intelligence. Key witnesses could also be found in Syria and at the sites of the attacks, he added.
"Someone must have given the order," Sellstrom said. "There must have been consequences somewhere - and that we could be able to pick up if people are willing to give that information to (a) member state or to such an inquiry."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for accountability for the chemical weapons attacks when he addressed the General Assembly and the Security Council on Sellstrom's findings, saying the perpetrators of "gross violations" of international human rights and humanitarian law must be brought to justice.
When pressed Monday on how to get accountability, Ban noted that the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council is investigating alleged crimes against humanity in Syria and said he is consulting member states "on what kind of measures should be taken and when and how." U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky added Tuesday that "there are a number of different methods that could be used that are available to member states, but it would be for them to do that."
A commission created by the Human Rights Council says both sides have committed heinous war crimes during the 2 1/2-year Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 people. A confidential list of suspected criminals is being produced by the commission and kept under lock and key by U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay. The commission could eventually weigh in on who bears responsibility for chemical weapons attacks.
Sellstrom also noted another approach the U.N. could take, pointing to independent U.N. commissions that investigated the assassinations of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 and former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
The chief inspector said he may speculate privately about who was responsible for the attacks, but he doesn't have clear evidence.
"I'm not surprised there are speculations on both sides," Sellstrom said.
The confirmed use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug 21, which killed 1,400 people according to the U.S. government, led to a U.S.-Russian agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014.
The process of getting chemicals that can be used to make weapons out of Syria is currently under way.
Sellstrom said inspectors now know that Syria possessed the deadly nerve agents sarin - which was used in the Ghouta attack and probably others - as well as VX. He also noted that sarin was made by the doomsday cult that carried out the 1995 Tokyo subway attack, and could be made by other groups as well.
Sellstrom said he believes the Syrian government has taken "a strategic decision" to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile and precursors.
"Maybe I'm naive or trying to be too positive," he said. But "I'm a believer that this strategic decision will be fulfilled."
Once the Syria conflict ends, Sellstrom said, "I would love to come inside people's brains and to know what was the truth behind all this."