In contemporary history the three cities of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Sardasht are clear examples of use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians and residential areas. If Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become famous as symbols for cities destroyed by nuclear arms, the city of Sardasht has become known as symbol of chemical weapons bombing. Thirty four years have passed since when the Iraqi Baath regime’s warplanes dropped Mustard bombs as chemical weapons on the people of Sardasht. This event was a bitter human tragedy, though one of the main reasons for speeding up the negotiations for formulating and concluding the Chemical Weapons Convention, the city of Sardasht never managed to obtain international recognition like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The reasons of this matter are beyond the scope of this paper.
To the writer of this paper’s view, apart from the bodily suffering of the Iranian chemical victims and the flaws of the national and international mechanisms for pursuing the chemical victims’ rights and lack of political will of the perpetrators, aiders and abettors of use of chemical weapons for taking responsibility, what more added to the chagrin and despair of the Iranian chemical victims was lack of the needed international attention to the victims; Especially that we live in an era in which sentiments have become global. However, the world community has not sufficiently comprehended the suffering of the Iranian chemical victims and this feeling of being forgotten is so painful to the chemical victims. Pains that have doubled in severity due to forceful and inhumane measures of some countries for obstructionism in the chemical victims’ access to medical drugs and equipment, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s basic policy, as the biggest victim of chemical weapons in contemporary history, is based on disarming and a world free of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Membership in the documents and conventions supervising non-application of weapons of mass destruction is a sign of this basic principle of Iran. The anniversary of the Sardasht chemical bombing by Saddam Hussein on June 28, 1987 is marked in the national calendar as a day for fighting biological and chemical weapons.
This paper has summarily addressed the main political, diplomatic and legal measures taken by Iran regarding the Sardasht catastrophe, the perspective ahead, and the role of the chemical victims’ associations in moilizing the static atmosphere governing the international community.
One of our country’s first measures regarding chemical attacks was reporting the application of chemical weapons to the UN and requesting due investigation by the organization; in a way that three investigating delegations visited the site of chemical attacks inside our country in years 1984, 1986, and 1987 and confirmed use of chemical weapons. As a result of the inspections carried out and our diplomacy’s pursuance, the resolutions 612 and 620 were issued by the UNSC in 1988, in which the use of chemical weapons against our country was confirmed.
Due to innumerable Iranian chemical victims and Iran’s basic approach towards humanitarianism, the contents of the Chemical Weapons Convention, especially the X article, are of much importance to Iran. Articles X and XI of the convention have been formulated out of efforts made by developing countries, and in a way have struck a balance between the rights and commitments of the members. Article X is about cooperation among the member states against chemical weapons and defense against their use and has stipulated the rights and commitments of the member states as well as those of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons regarding protecting and rescuing operations against chemical weapons. Also, article X is about cooperation among member states in the area of economic and technological development and international cooperation under the prohibited activities and necessity for ascertaining of non-application of the international and national laws that are incompatible with the peaceful use of chemistry and trade of chemical materials.
Contents of article X are the center of gravity for the humanitarian attention of the convention in helping and protecting the communities against use or threats of use of chemical weapons. Due to Iran’s sad experience of being exposed to chemical weapons during the imposed war against Iraq, Iran has gained unique experiences and capabilities in treating chemical survivors , in a way that so far Iran has held six courses of “Protection and Rescue Against Use of Chemical Weapons” with the participation of Asian countries, and ten advanced international courses of “ Medical Dimensions of Protection and Rescue Against Use of Chemical Weapons” with cooperation from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the participation of medical staff of foreign countries in Tehran. Also, due to the mentioned capacities, Iran was the first member state of the convention which by concluding an agreement with the said organization declared its readiness for sending a rescue and protection team to the site of chemical weapons use. Only one more country has so far concluded such an agreement with the organization.
With the pursuance of our country at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the 16th Chemical Weapons Conference of the member states in 2011 founded the “Network for International Support for Chemical Victims” as well as the “ Volunteer Fund for Helping Chemical Victims”. Unfortunately, volunteer aid of the member states of the organization to the fund has been meager, especially that of the wealthy and developed countries, and these countries do not offer serious aid to alleviate the pains of the victims of chemical weapons. Lack of the necessary political will by the countries that are defenders of taking serious action for mitigating the pains of the victims of chemical weapons is a serious challenge for achieving the goals set by the convention, including indiscriminatory, efficient and complete execution of this international document.
According to the 10th conference of the member states, it was determined that day April 29 be named as the day for commemorating the victims of chemical weapons. Also, by Iran’s request and approval by the executive council of the organization and for strengthening international awareness of the Sardasht catastrophe, the general director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will annually issue a message of solidarity to commemorate the memory of the Sardasht chemical bombing on June 28 as the representative of the organization. Installing the statue bestowed by Iran at the UN site in the Hague in 2012 was another symbolic gesture made to commemorate the memory of the Iranian chemical victims and their plight.
Material and spiritual support for the participation of the Iranian popular-based organizations at the formal annual sessions of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is among other measures of the government to support the chemical victims. The Iranian popular-based organizations have, especially since 2003 and during the first convention for reviewing the Chemical Weapons Convention, continuously participated at the session and held exhibitions of the evidence of chemical weapons victims, and have continuously raised the world’s public awareness. These popular-based organizations have held exhibitions and employed the language of art to mirror the plight of our country’s chemical victims. The Iranian associations have held annual exhibitions in the Hague, connected with the associations of the victims of weapons of mass destruction of other countries and created peace museums, focusing on the impacts of chemical weapons, and have become members of the peace museums international networks, and participated at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki annual events in Japan and other countries, and played a unique role in strengthening a norm for prohibition of chemical weapons and mirroring the Iranian chemical victims. However, the Iranian popular-based organizations’ high capacity on the national and international level has not been fully taped into; for this, it is worthy that these associations become more active to fulfill the unserved rights of the chemical victims.
Another considerable step to be taken for the chemical victims is holding national and international seminars. The International Seminar on the consequences of the Use of Chemical Weapons against Iran, which was held on October 22 and 23, 2007, was one of those sessions that was held in Tehran. This international seminar was held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sardasht Chemical Bombing and the 10th anniversary of the enforcing of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
As the delaine for destruction of all chemical weapons in year 2023 approaches and new topics related to the missions of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are brought up, it is appropriate the Iranian government take the initiative in the diplomatic efforts within a calculated plan to strengthen the article X of the convention and its humanitarian dimensions at the next talks of the organization and try to earn the rights of our sacrificial victims. Also it is necessary that Iran stress the contents of article X, regarding the international cooperation and its relation to the needs of the chemical victims, and define a main part of the organization’s mission within this framework.
Unfortunately, the organization’s developments during recent years have been in a way that the main pillars of the convention, that is demolition of chemical arsenals, international cooperation and protection and aid against the use of chemical weapons, have been overshadowed by discussions related to non-reemergence of chemical weapons. However, Iran, in an interpreting statement with a forward –looking view at the time of membership to the convention, stressed the full, unconditional, and indiscriminatory execution of all contents of the convention. For doing so, the Associations of Chemical Weapons, too, must pragmatically and actively participate and interact with the Chemical and Biological Associations of other countries to create currents and synergy and shift from the supervising standpoint over the convention’s developments to the approach of demanding change. Strengthening the interactions of the chemical weapons associations with international mechanisms related to humanitarian international law and active participation including on the sidelines of other conventions for prohibition of chemical weapons and the WTO, the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s international conferences as well as the human Rights Council can considerably help promote the status of the chemical victims’ associations with the Organization for the prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
In addition to the government, also the Parliament of Iran enacted “The Enforcing Act of Requiring the Government to Pursue and Protect the Rights of Victims of Chemical Weapons Against the Islamic Republic of Iran”, as well as “The Act of Recognition and Protection of Chemical Victims”, to provide the legal basis to earn the rights of the chemical victims at the domestic and international levels. The Iranian parliament is expected to allot the needed financial resources to legally and internationally pursue their rights by an experienced and professional team.
Organizing the statistics and data bank related to the chemical victims and collecting the evidence, documents and proof of chemical attacks against our country is one of the most important measures taken domestically, and at present there are hundreds of thousands of pieces of documented and solid evidence to realize the rights of our country’s chemical victims in judicial and legal areas. Our country’s active participation at the time of proceedings of Van Anraat, the Dutch trader who sold thousands of tons of chemical materials to Saddam Hussein and influencing the final judgment of the Hague court are other proper actions that our country took, as the various dimensions of the way the claim was filed against the individuals and companies involved in the use of chemical weapons have been assessed and researched. Division of the needed work among fifteen institutions responsible for pursuing the rights of our country’s chemical victims, especially the Martyrs Department and the Presidency’s Center for legal and International Affairs as facilitators of the Foreign Ministry.
Despite the mentioned efforts, according to the legal limits at the international level, and lack of the needed political will from the related states, it seems strengthening steps at the Civil Society level, such as at the Chemical Victims Associations and diplomatic pursuance can better provide the space for realizing the rights of chemical victims at this time.
Strengthening the international dimensions of Sardasht and our country’s chemical associations requires two parallel approaches at domestic and international levels. Domestically, the related domestic institutions such as the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and other departments must immediately and with full capacity continue their efforts to create the needed internal hardware and software infrastructure to stress the city of Sardasht and our country’s chemical victims. Internationally, a specific proposal for promoting the international image of Sardasht as the symbol for the victims of chemical weapons must be made and an annual international conference titled “ Sardasht’s International Conference” be held with the participation from popular-based organizations from various countries at regional and international levels , and with participation from foreign countries’ officials on the anniversary of the Sardasht Chemical Bombing.
Seyed Mehdi Parsaei, Disarmament Researcher
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)