Harvard Sussex Program
on chemical and biological warfare armament and arms limitation


Data Capture of Syria Chemical Weapons Allegations


On September 16th 2013, a UN report confirmed the use of the chemical warfare nerve agent Sarin during an attack on locations within the Ghouta agricultural belt around Damascus on August 21st. One of a series of alleged chemical warfare attacks in Syria, the attack on Ghouta was described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as "the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988" and has set in motion a rapidly evolving chain of unanticipated actions and reactions. This includes the unprecedented use of information provided by actors ‘beyond the state’; the successful start-up of an international programme jointly promoted by the governments of Russia and the United States (helped by others including Iran & Syria), to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria; and Syria’s accession to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, so becoming the 190th State Party to that Convention.


Understanding how these events happened, the reaction to them and the prospects for successful elimination of chemical weapons from Syria, are matters requiring systematic data gathering and analysis. Funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and conducted in association with Cranfield University, this project will:

  1. Gather documentary and various other types of data relating to the events leading up to the UNSG’s investigation, the report and associated events, including materials from: governments; international organisations; non governmental organisations; mainstream media; and individuals across a wide range of media sharing platforms,
  2. Commission initial analysis of the resulting dataset and themed, closely documented, chronologies which, amongst other things, will form a near contemporary historical record for future research generations
  3. Create a special collection regarding allegations of use of chemical weapons in Syria within the Sussex Harvard Information Bank and, to increase utility of the dataset, an electronic database. These will both be put at the disposal of academics and policy shapers who have, or may have in the future, an interest in these events.
  4. Develop a future research programme based on the data collected

Dr Caitriona McLeish is principal investigator, with Dr James Revill as co-investigator. This project commenced on 1st May 2014 and will run until the 31st of March 2016.

HSP work on the topic of allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria prior to the start of this project includes Julian Perry Robinson Alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, Harvard Sussex Program Occasional Paper 4.

The report from the Workshop on Syria Chemical Weapons Allegations is now available.

For further details please contact Dr Caitriona McLeish c.a.mcleish@sussex.ac.uk