UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Thursday condemned [press release] the reported chemical weapon attacks that killed hundreds in the Ghouta region of Damascus as a "serious escalation" in the fight between Syria's government and rebel forces. The alleged attacks were part of the Syrian government's efforts to drive out rebel forces from the area. Pillay noted, "The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under customary international law." Following calls by 35 member states for the UN's chemical weapons expert to investigate the area, Argentina's UN ambassador and current Security Council president urged a thorough examination of the attacks. It is currently unknown how many individuals were killed in the attack.
The Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder] has been ongoing since 2011 when opposition groups first began protesting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and the increasingly bloody nature of the conflict has put pressure on the international community to intervene. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch reported [JURIST report] that nine apparent ballistic missile attacks on populated areas have killed at least 215 citizens including 100 children. In July the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria urged the international community [JURIST report] to bring peace to the country. In May Pillay expressed concern [JURIST report] regarding reports that described the slaying of entire Syrian families and shelling of communities, as well as the targeted strikes by Syrian armed forces on hospitals and schools. More than 100,000 people have been killed since fighting began between Syrian Government forces and opposition groups seeking to oust Assad. Almost two million have fled to neighboring countries and a further 4 million have been internally displaced.