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Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria Underscores Importance of International Law and Norms against WMD and against Irresponsible Arms Transfers

17 September 2013

Yesterday the UN Secretary-General released a report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August. The report concludes that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale, resulting in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians. The report notes that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used in Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah, and Zamalka.

The use of chemical weapons is a serious violation of international law, regardless of which party to the conflict perpetrated the attack. But the use of chemical weapons, however abhorrent and illegal, should not be used as a pretext for military intervention. As the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) argued in our statement on 30 August, other options are available and must be pursued.

WILPF’s Stance: Political Process as a Solution to Syrian Conflict

In our statement, we urged for the UN inspectors to be given a chance to complete their work; for the chemical weapons to be secured and eliminated; for accountability to come through the courts, not bombs; and for a political solution to be sought through inclusive peace talks.

WILPF is relieved that the push for war by some Western governments has been tempered with the succession of the Syrian government to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the agreement reached between Russia and the United States on a framework for the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria. Now that the inspection team has completed its work on the Damascus allegations, any response to its report must be in accordance with international law.

We continue to urge the referral of this matter to the International Criminal Court. There needs to be an investigation into the identification of the perpetrators and the nature of the command responsibility.

In addition, the political process developed to provide a political solution to the Syrian crisis must resume its work. Pressure also needs to be strengthened for an inclusive process involving women on all sides as well as nonviolent humanitarian and women’s groups to ensure a strong peace process and outcome.

Illicit Arms Trade: A Problem Not a Solution

In the meantime, arms transfers to the Syrian government and rebel forces must stop. These arms flows have achieved only more bloodshed, and both pro- and anti-government forces have been found to have committed war crimes. Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria during the past two and a half years; over seven million Syrians are internally displaced or are refugees abroad.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, while action on chemical weapons moves ahead, the international community “must not be blind to the war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed with conventional weapons.”

This situation also brings attention to the dangers inherent in the existence and possession of any weapon of mass destruction. Nine states possess over 17,000 nuclear weapons. Many of them are kept on high alert, ready for use. The allegations of use of chemical weapons in Syria have been met with abhorrence and condemnation, as well as demands that the Syrian government make every effort to secure and destroy them. These same reactions and demands should be leveled upon those states possessing nuclear weapons.

All states free of nuclear weapons have a role in building and strengthening the norms and laws that outlaw nuclear weapons. All nuclear-armed states must come into compliance with their international obligations to disarm.

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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