The spectre of chemical weapons recently used in the conflict in Syria against civilians has raised international alarms, led to calls for an investigation and met with strong condemnation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary, who called on the United Nations to fulfil its responsibility to protect the Syrian people from gross human rights violations.
“No matter who is behind this attack, it is absolutely unconscionable that chemical weapons may have found their way into the conflict in Syria,” said the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC General Secretary, on Tuesday 27 August 2013 from the WCC offices in Geneva.
“As a worldwide fellowship of churches, including churches in Syria which have suffered greatly in the war, we roundly condemn the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances by either side.”
“There is no excuse for this, and enough is enough,” Tveit stated. “These last few days have shown again the brutality of this war, in which the innocent and ordinary people of Syria are paying an unbearable price.”
Nearly 1,300 people died from what appears to have been a gas attack of 21 August, in Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to news reports.
Already, more than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, while 1.7 million have become refugees outside Syria and 1.5 million are displaced inside Syria. Half of those refugees and displaced people are underthe age of 18, according to aid agency reports.
Hundreds have gone missing and been kidnapped, including two bishops, Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim from the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi from the Greek Orthodox Church, and three priests, the latest being Jesuit Father Paolo Dall'Oglio.
Tveit said the WCC calls for and supports the UN conducting a thorough and impartial investigation into the alleged gas attack, and calls upon the Syrian government to fulfil its role to protect its citizens.
It is important for the UN to have full access for their investigation, Dr Tveit said.
Equally important, he said, is that the UN member states, especially the UN Security Council and its member states find a way to not only understand how the responsibility to protect translates in this situation, but to apply its principles for protecting the Syrian people.
“I appeal to the UN and international community to work cooperatively for a negotiated political means to find a peaceful end to this conflict,” he added.
Tveit pointed to a 2006 statement of the WCC adopted at its 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where churches around the world called on the international community and individual governments to protect citizens from gross human rights violations.
The statement, 'Vulnerable Populations at Risk: Statement on the Responsibility to Protect', says that the “prevention of catastrophic human insecurity requires attention to the root causes of insecurity as well as to more immediate or direct causes of insecurity. Broadly stated, the long-term agenda is to pursue human security and the transformation of life according to the vision of God's Kingdom.”
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria