September 15, 2015 / 5:19 PM / in 2 years

U.N. disarmament official to lead Syria gas attacks inquiry

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Senior U.N. disarmament official Virginia Gamba of Argentina will lead an international investigation aimed at assigning blame for chemical weapon attacks in Syria, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

A man inspects a site targeted by what activists said was a poison gas attack in the village of Sarmin in Idlib province March 17, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamad Bayoush

The U.N. Security Council gave the green light for the joint inquiry by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) last week. Both Syria’s government and rebels have denied using chemical weapons.

Gamba is currently the deputy U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and will bring more than 30 years’ experience in disarmament to her new role leading the Syria investigation, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

He said that Gamba’s deputies on the three-member panel will be Adrian Neritani of Albania and Eberhard Schanze of Germany.

Western governments hope the U.N.-OPCW investigation will assign blame to specific individuals that could be used someday to prosecute members of the Syrian government for war crimes.

But prospects for accountability appear remote.

Russia and China have blocked U.N. Security Council referral of the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 in an effort to avert U.S. military strikes threatened over a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians. The OPCW has since found chlorine has been “systematically and repeatedly” used as a weapon, though it is not mandated to lay blame.

A separate U.N. investigation had previously determined that sarin gas was used repeatedly in Syria to deadly effect, but that inquiry was also barred from assigning blame.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish

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