x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Call for Halabja investigation a warning to Syria

An application for court proceedings related to Saddam Hussein's war crimes shows the world has a long memory.

What happened on a single Friday in northern Iraq in 1988 is still remembered a quarter of a century later. On that day, in the last days of the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein ordered chemical weapons to be used against the Kurds of Halabja. Thousands died, in the most horrific way possible.

This week in Paris, 20 survivors of that attack requested a judicial investigation of French suppliers, arguing that executives at the companies knew what they were sending to the Iraqi dictator and therefore bore some responsibility.

Although no companies were named, the lawyer for the victims said he hoped a judge would allow the case to be heard. The Iraqi victims plan to file further cases in Germany, the United States and elsewhere.

Such a legal case after so long is not unprecedented. In April, a Dutch court ordered a businessman, previously convicted of selling raw materials for mustard gas to Saddam Hussein's regime, to pay compensation to the victims of Halabja.

It has taken 25 years and the end of three wars for these cases to finally enter the courts system. Many of the documents could only be retrieved from Iraq once the US invasion and its violent aftermath had cooled down.

And yet such cases serve as a warning to countries that using such weapons against civilians is so morally reprehensible that they will be pursued, however long has passed.

Such a warning particularly applies to the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad which has repeatedly used chemical weapons - if in limited quantities - against civilians. The White House, after hesitating for so long, has finally admitted such weapons were used conclusively and that the much-vaunted "red line" set by President Barack Obama had been crossed.

Syria is not alone in its use of such weapons in this region. Israel has repeatedly used white phosphorous in built-up areas, killing Palestinians and leaving others with horrific burns and disfiguring injuries.

The Kurdish case should remind both governments, and those who support them and sell them such weapons, that the world has a long memory for such horrific crimes.