Means of Stifling the Truth
After every chemical massacre they commit, the Syrian regime and its allies in Russia seek to hide evidence of the crime, erase traces, and tamper with the case. They use many means to achieve these goals, including:
Tampering with evidence directly and indirectly.
Obstructing the work of investigative committees.
1- Tampering with evidence:
Direct tampering: This is what the regime and its allies do after taking control of the crime scene. They erase their traces, hiding the effects of projectiles, chemically treating the area by disinfecting the site targeted and spaces where first aid was given to the injured, changing the features of the area by, for example, digging up graves or removing the victims’ corpses and replacing them with intact ones.
Indirect tampering: preventing the inspection committees from reaching the crime scene later on by bombing the crime scene and everything that could serve as evidence of the crime, such as hospitals, ambulances, cemeteries, and the like.
2- Obstructing the work of investigation committees:
Every time the investigative committees and inspection teams plan to enter Syria, the Syrian regime and its Russian allies strive to mislead the investigators and put various impediments to the work of these teams and committees. These impediments include delays in responding to correspondence and granting entry visas to inspectors. They also seek to restrict these teams’ access to the areas attacked, especially since regime forces controlled the crossings and roads leading to opposition-controlled areas (targeted by chemical weapons). The members of these committees and teams were at times intimidated, as happened in Douma when a UN security team reported gunfire at the site where the inspectors had intended to go.
3- Intimidating witnesses
The Syrian regime has been systematically committing crimes against the families and the property of peaceful activists since the beginning of the revolution in 2011. These include arbitrary arrests and detention, burning or confiscating property, and, in some cases, even murder. Thus, many activists resorted to concealing their identities for fear of their relatives being subjected to the regime’s viciousness.
After the regime committed chemical massacres, many witnesses and survivors were keen to avoid appearing on media outlets to talk about what had happened, especially since the regime was sending threats through its agents, such as insinuations that their relatives residing in areas under regime control would be harmed if those witnesses and survivors spoke out about the chemical massacres.
The Syrian regime and its Russian allies have exploited those who reached compromises with them in the areas they had regained control of, using them as false witnesses to the chemical weapons crimes by forcing them to give altered testimonies that contradict the actions they took or testimonies they provided when the chemical crimes occurred.
The Russian side forced doctors from Douma who reached settlements with the Syrian regime to give false testimonies about the chemical massacre in Douma and took them to The Hague so they could make statements denying the chemical massacre ever occurred, even though they were among the medical teams that tried to rescue the martyrs and the injured. The doctors had no other choice since their families live at the mercy of the Syrian regime’s security apparatuses.
In Eastern Ghouta, the regime forced the media and revolutionary activists to go on media outlets and deny the occurrence of the 2013 chemical massacre in Ghouta, although some activists had taken part in documenting the crimes with their cameras and had been borne witness to them.
5- Media misinformation:
The Russian side has established a media machine composed of Russian and foreign journalists and local media professionals affiliated with the regime. This agency worked to publish swaths of misleading media reports to influence the search engine results of searches into chemical weapons and to mislead international public opinion.
In addition, Russian media channels have resorted to taking excerpts from reenactment films, showing behind-the-scenes clips, pointing to gaps, and claiming that these are the clips shared by the opposition to implicate the regime in chemical weapons attacks. The aim was to influence global public opinion, taking advantage of the fact that many are unfamiliar with the reenactment films that address the question of chemical attacks.
In the same context, the Syrian regime arrested several female teachers from Ain Tarma after taking control of Eastern Ghouta in 2018 and coerced them (with threats) to confess that they had trained school children to perform and play roles during the chemical warfare in Ghouta in 2013. The teachers were also forced to appear on media outlets to talk about this. The Syrian regime also arrested several children who had been injured by chemical weapons in Ghouta and whose photos had been viral on social media in order to hide them from public view and prevent them from traveling, including the child who said the phrase “I am alive.”