Daniel Halliday
Nov 23 · Last update 5 mo. ago.
Who are the forgotten victims of chemical warfare?
The Chemical Weapons Convention has been in force since 1997, and is a treaty ratified by 193 states that bans large-scale use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons. However chemical weapons appear to have been utilised as recently as the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars, with the victims often overlooked, becoming just another “wartime casualty”. Who are the victims of chemical warfare and can anything else be done to prevent such things from happening in the future?
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Chemical and Biological Weapons in the Rhodesian Bush War
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Mustard Gas in WW1
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Modern use
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Agent Orange
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100,000 Iranian victims of Saddam Hussein’s nerve gas attacks
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Chemical and Biological Weapons in the Rhodesian Bush War

This conflict (also known as the Zimbabwe War of Liberation) was a civil war conflict waged by the Rhodesian government against the forces of Robert Mugabe and of Joshua Nkomo from 1964 until 1979. However it was the actions of the Selous Scouts, the special forces of the Rhodesian Army, employing various terrorist tactics to fight the perceived terrorist threat of the insurgencies of Mugabe and Nkomo, the worst of these being chemical and biological weapon war crimes. There are few records to go on but it is widely recognised that human experimentation was taking place with inexpensive chemicals found in rat poison through to biological agents such as cholera, anthrax, typhus typhoid fever, botulinum and more deadly chemicals such as ricin. At least a thousand people died as a result of these weapons, often civilians due to their unpredictable nature, but with funding for this program coming from Saudi Arabia some have supposed a link to the United Kingdom being the real financial support behind this extensive chemical and biological weapons program. herald.co.zw/dirty-war-inside-rhodesias-chemical-warfare globalblackhistory.com/2018/01/chemical-biological-warfare-rhodesia-zimbabwe-1975-1980.html

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Mustard Gas in WW1

The wide spread use of mustard gas, chlorine, phosgene and tear gas in the First World War was one of the most horrible aspects of this truly horrible worldwide conflict. Although the Hague convention of 1899 already prohibited the use of chemical weapons, modern chemical weapons saw widespread use for the first time during this war, with 50,965 tons of chemical agents causing 1.3 million deaths through this period. Although this was one of the events that led to the general disapproval of chemical weapon use internationally, it is an often overlooked aspect as it was also the start of trench warfare and part of the continued transition into an industrial warfare age.

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Modern use

The continued use of chemical weapons in the Middle East, in both Yemen and Syria, will remain a tragic episode in modern history, but are made even worse if they remain unprosecuted and out of the public's sphere of concern. Despite Saudi Arabia denying the use of ‘white phosphorus’ in Yemen, both the incriminating bombing of civilians and evidence of phosphorus munitions on social media make these crimes against humanity very likely. Likewise the UN’s reported use of chlorine, mustard gas and probably sarin in Syria, lost in a complex confusion of ongoing proxy warfare, and their failure to take action against its use make the victims of these conflicts truly forgotten. This terrible state of affairs undermines all that have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, complicit governments that although or support such actions and bodies such as the UN and the ICC who remain apparently unable to enforce international law.

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Agent Orange

During the Vietnam War the United States carried out an extensive chemical weapons campaign indiscriminately dropping a cocktail of chemicals across the Vietnamese countryside. In an effort to use herbicidal chemicals to destroy forest cover that the Vietcong were reliant on during the war the US dropped 76,000 square metres of herbicide and defoliant causing over 31,000 square kilometres of environmental damage. The human cost was by far the most shocking, as four million people are thought to have been exposed to these known carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds. This led to around three million reported to have suffered some form of illness, mainly cancer, and led to one million people being severely disabled or debilitated, including 55,000 US veterans.

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100,000 Iranian victims of Saddam Hussein’s nerve gas attacks

During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980’s Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein broke the Geneva Protocol by utilising chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and civilians. Iraq openly claimed to have utilised thousands of tons of mustard gas, tabun and sarin during this period. The human effects of such weapons ranged from instant asphyxiation, to a slow agonising death months later, or even to severe health problems lying dormant for up to 40 years.

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