An activist group on Tuesday published a database of information on suspected chemical attacks in Syria, adding to a growing collection of videos and images documenting alleged war crimes during the seven-year conflict.
The Syrian Archive, which works with human rights groups such as Amnesty International, said it has verified 861 videos covering some 212 attacks — most of them believed to have been carried out by government forces.
The material comes from 193 sources and much of it was uploaded to social media by ordinary Syrians, the group’s co-founder, Hadi al-Khatib, told an audience in Berlin.
Al-Khatib, who has lived in Germany since 2014, said the group wants to preserve sensitive material from disappearing, so that it might eventually be used to bring those responsible for war crimes to trial. But the team, which is spread across Europe and the Middle East, also wants to “add value” to the raw material, such as by determining the location where a video was taken and, most importantly, verifying that it shows what is claimed.
The Syrian Archive cooperates with the open source journalism site Bellingcat that has made a name for itself forensically examining footage from war zones.
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While most of the chemical attacks documented by the group are alleged to have been carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, including most recently in the town of Douma near Damascus, a handful have been attributed to rebel forces and the Islamic State extremist group, said Abdulrahman al-Jaloud, one of the Syrian Archive’s researchers.
Al-Khatib said he and fellow activists try not to get disheartened by the fact that efforts to bring those responsible for war crimes in Syria to trial have so far been unsuccessful.
“That doesn’t mean we should stop,” he said. “We are looking forward to the day when we can use this material, because the reconstruction of Syria must include acknowledging, investigating and prosecuting crimes.”