This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

Radi Saad

Hazmat Team Coordinator, The White Helmets – Syria Civil Defence

Guest blogger for UK in the Netherlands

Part of UK in the Netherlands

5th May 2022

The Chemical Weapons Convention represents one of few means for accountability in Syria

Radi Saad started working in the humanitarian field in mid-2012, shortly after he joined the White Helmets – Syria Civil Defence. Then moving into the field of Response Coordination, establishing special teams that respond to and document chemical weapons attacks in Northern Syria and other besieged areas like Eastern Ghouta. The White Helmets work as a link between civilian victims’ families and investigation committees. They are currently working extensively with victims and survivors regarding incidents where internationally prohibited weapons were used, with many victims.

My faith in the Chemical Weapons Convention will not falter.

The first time I heard of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), I had many questions: what will it do for Syrians? Will it treat us as mere victims or will it give us agency? Will it console us, or will it stand with the perpetrators? Syrians feel abandoned by the international community, like we have been left to face our fate alone.

However, I am now certain that the path towards justice and accountability for the use of chemical weapons in Syria passes through the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the OPCW.

The CWC and its implementation means a lot to us as Syrians. We have been victims of chemical weapons, and we are still under threat due to the Syrian regime’s non-compliance with the terms of the agreement. The regime has used chemical weapons – sarin and chlorine – repeatedly after signing the Convention in 2013, as confirmed by the reports of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) and the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT).

Over the past nine years, I have worked with The White Helmets – Syria Civil Defence to document the chemical attacks that we responded to as paramedics and rescuers across Syria. We believe in the importance of this work and our moral and humanitarian duty towards the civilian victims of this lethal weapon. We have been the first responders in more than fifty locations where aircraft and artillery delivered bombs and cylinders loaded with agents that are harmful to the lungs or affect nerves. The major perpetrator of these attacks is the Syrian regime, with a small number attributable to radical groups. These attacks have not been arbitrary; they have sought to achieve military gains and to spread terror in the communities in areas outside the perpetrators’ control. 

This experience has left a great impact on our souls as responders and victims because of our previous lack of knowledge about the nature of the substances used when we first responded to chemical attacks. With time, extensive training, and lessons learned, our search and rescue teams have gained the knowledge and experience to deal with such attacks. We have also acquired the equipment and developed the tools that help us to respond in a way that meets international standards.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the CWC is an opportunity to reaffirm our common goal and shared vision with the OPCW—a world free of chemical weapons. We also reiterate our commitment to helping the victims of chemical weapons fighting for justice and accountability. The White Helmets is fully committed to implementing the provisions of the CWC and to providing all the support that could help in the process of combating the manufacture, development and use of chemical weapons. We call on the international community to assist the OPCW in upholding the Convention and to hold those who violate it accountable. 

Indeed, I had hoped that the celebration of the silver jubilee of the CWC would be the declaration of victory by burying these weapons forever. Every time I interact with the victim’s families, their eyes ask me when justice is coming, but I am unable to answer. Despite my belief that it will come one day, I am haunted everyday by the faces of those who died as they suffocated; I remember their gasps, their breath fading silently. Do I tell them that whoever killed them is still making chemical weapons to kill others? Or do I say that this weapon may be used in other parts of the world?

I will not allow my faith to diminish. I am filled with hope that one day the world will be free of chemical weapons and that those who used them will be brought to justice.

Note: British Embassy The Hague offers its blog platform for guest posts. The views expressed in the guest posts are those of the authors.

About UK in the Netherlands

As the British Embassy and Consulate General in the Netherlands we know everything there is to know about the UK-Dutch relationship. We are also home to the UK's delegations to…

As the British Embassy and Consulate General in the Netherlands we know everything there is to know about the UK-Dutch relationship. We are also home to the UK's delegations to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the international courts based in The Hague. It is our job to build on the strong ties between our two countries, covering political co-operation, businesses and trade, security and defence, and people to people connections.

Our multilateral teams work in the city of peace and justice to uphold human rights, reduce and resolve conflict, and ensure a fairer world for all. We also provide consular information and assistance to UK nationals studying, travelling, and working in the Netherlands.

Find more information on our work on our social media pages and via the GOV.UK website. Take a look around!