THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court on Wednesday ordered a businessman convicted of selling Saddam Hussein raw materials for mustard gas to pay compensation to victims of chemical weapon attacks by the late Iraqi dictator's regime.
The landmark ruling was largely symbolic for the 16 survivors as the businessman, Hans van Anraat, is serving a prison sentence for selling the chemicals and is believed to be destitute. But it served as a warning to individuals or businesses who may still try to sell chemicals to tyrants at a time of reports that poison gas is being used in Syria's bloody civil war.
"I am of course very happy that the judgment is finally in our favor," said Rebas Kadir, the only victim in court. "For us it was very important that it sent a message that something like this should not and cannot happen."
Kadir was just 4 years old when he survived Saddam's notorious 1988 attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja in Iraq in which an estimated 5,600 civilians were killed. His parents, brother and sister died and he was left with badly damaged lungs that make even day-to-day activities like climbing a flight of stairs tough.
Saddam, then Iraq's dictator, ordered the Halabja attack as part of a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north, which was seen as aiding Iran in the final months of its war with Iraq.
Kadir now lives in the Netherlands, where Van Anraat is serving a 16 ½-year sentence for supplying Saddam with a chemical known as TDG,in the full knowledge that it was going to be used to make poison gas.
Van Anraat, who was not in court, was ordered to pay each survivor €25,000 ($32,475).
He was Iraq's sole supplier of TDG, or thiodiglycol, for its mustard gas production program. His lawyer, Hans Vermeer, said Wednesday that Van Anraat believed the chemical was to be used in the Iraqi textile industry.
Judges rejected that argument at his 2005 trial and said he knew the chemicals might well be used for war crimes, but sold more than 1,000 tons to Saddam anyway, motivated by greed. Van Anraat continued selling the chemicals even after learning of the Halabja attack.
Wednesday's case in The Hague came amid mounting claims of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
A senior Israeli military intelligence official said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons last month in his battle against insurgent groups.
Britain and France also recently announced that they had evidence Assad's government had used chemical weapons. Although the U.S. says it has not been able to verify the claims, President Barack Obama has warned that the introduction of chemical weapons by Assad would be a "game changer."
Britain and France asked the U.N. to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in two locations near Damascus on March 19, as well as in the city of Homs on Dec. 23. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed an investigative team, but the Syrian government has largely blocked its effort. Syria, meanwhile, has accused the rebels of using chemical weapons.