In April 2018, after protracted negotiations, around 10,000 fighters from various armed groups from the eastern suburbs of Damascus were preparing to withdraw – civilians had been evacuated for this purpose before – despite a ceasefire, the fighting by the “Army of Islam” based in Douma suddenly flared up again. 50 civilians are said to have been killed in an attack with chemical weapons. Opposition activists and the “white helmets” immediately blamed the Syrian army. The Syrian government rejected this and called on the OPCW to investigate. A week later, even before the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission, FFM, arrived in Damascus, the governments of the United States, Britain and France carried out massive air strikes on Syria. This was justified as retaliation because the Syrian government was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the actions of the USA, Great Britain and France and said in a written statement:
“We support the fact that our American, British and French allies, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, have accepted responsibility in this way.”
Following the conclusion of the Douma investigation, a first interim report was published by the OPCW in summer 2018, followed by the final report on 1 March 2019. This final report concluded that chlorine had been used as a weapon.
Shortly thereafter, an internal technical investigation of the OPCW became known, which doubted the official OPCW final report. The author of the study was the long-time OPCW inspector Ian Henderson. During his investigations in Douma, he had come to the conclusion that “observations of the situation at the two locations, together with the subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at the two locations than that they were dropped by an aircraft.”
Henderson stressed that he had not disclosed his study to the public. An internal OPCW search for the source that had brought the technical investigation into the public domain was inconclusive. However, the OPCW opened an investigation against Henderson for breach of confidentiality.
In October 2019, a former OPCW official, who had been a senior member of the original Douma investigation mission, spoke out. At a forum in Brussels hosted by the Courage Foundation, which supports whistleblowers such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon, the man, who called himself “Alex”, detailed important scientific discrepancies and procedural irregularities that made the official Douma final report different from the actual findings of the Douma investigation mission. Obviously, the final report had been “edited”, leaving out substantial evidence.
In 2020, numerous other documents relating to the matter were made public by Wikileaks or the US research platform The Grayzone. The former OPCW inspectors who participated in the Douma investigation and who had expressed their opposition to the official final report were not only publicly vilified by the OPCW. The US media Bellingcat, an online research website, directly defamed the two scientists; in a series on BBC Radio 4, the editors allowed an anonymous source to slander the two scientists and also former OPCW Director General José Bustani.
The controversial Douma final report was repeatedly discussed at the UN Security Council headquarters, revealing a deep divide between the US and EU states on the one hand and Russia and China on the other.
The USA, France, Great Britain and Germany even went so far as to prevent the participation of the first OPCW Director General José Bustani in a meeting of the UN Security Council, which dealt with the issue.
Bustani is one of (so far) 27 internationally known personalities who call on the OPCW for responsibility and transparency. Five former OPCW inspectors, one former UNSCOM inspector (Iraq) stand behind their colleagues who have contradicted the official OPCW-Douma final report. Former US presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, Professor Noam Chomsky, Professor Dr. Ulrich Gottstein (IPPNW), the filmmakers John Pilger and Oliver Stone, the musician Roger Waters and the former UN Secretaries-General Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck have signed the “Declaration of Concern”.
They cite four reasons for their involvement: protest against the “processing of scientific evidence in the Douma case”; concern about deliberate manipulation of facts “to justify political and military action”. The signatories recall the " fabricated story of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which justified a war.“They want to protect civil society in Syria and elsewhere” and insist “on transparency and ultimately on the responsibility” of the OPCW.
The statement was sent to the current OPCW Director General Fernando Arrias and to the delegations of all 193 OPCW member states. In addition, the UN Secretary-General, the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council and other UN organisations received the declaration.
More about the “group of 21” and a lot of background material can be found on the website berlingroup21.org.