Security Council Must Remain United against Breaking ‘Deeply Held Taboo’ of Using Chemical Weapons, Top Disarmament Official Stresses during Briefing

Reiterating Denials, Syria’s Permanent Representative Accuses Western States of Supporting Foreign Terrorist Fighters in His Country

The senior United Nations disarmament affairs official warned today that the Security Council must remain united against the use of chemical weapons, a crime that must always be viewed as a violation of a deeply held taboo.

So long as the use of chemical weapons is ongoing, or the threat of their use lingers, we must retain our focus on this issue and not allow ourselves to become inured to it, said Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

Briefing the 15-member Council on efforts to investigate several allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, she described efforts by her office, alongside the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to clarify outstanding issues related to Syria’s declaration and elimination of chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013. While citing remaining gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies in that process, she also welcomed efforts by the OPCW fact-finding mission in Syria to investigate reported chemical weapons use in the town of Douma and elsewhere. She also spotlighted a recent decision to task the OPCW with identifying perpetrators in such cases under certain circumstances.

As Council members took the floor to express their views, several delegates echoed the High Representative’s concerns about reported plans to use chemical weapons in Idlib Province, home to some 3 million civilians where a tenuous ceasefire continues to forestall a military escalation. Some speakers voiced concern that long-established norms against the use of chemical weapons seem to be eroding, while others warned that the decision to task the OPCW with identifying perpetrators transfers power away from the Security Council and could risk politicizing crucial investigations.

Bolivia’s representative encouraged the Government of Syria to clarify the concerns raised by the OPCW. Given that the use of chemical weapons is a serious violation of international law and life itself, all perpetrators must be held accountable, and the Council must remain unified in support of an impartial investigation aimed at identifying and holding perpetrators to account, he added. While expressing regret over the transfer of that responsibility to the OPCW, he underlined the importance of exercising full respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, upholding the Idlib agreement and making progress on the political process.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s representative said it defies belief that the Council remains unable to take unified action to uphold the international prohibition on chemical weapons. The eradication of such horrible instruments must be a universal goal, she stressed, noting that it is particularly regrettable that the Russian Federation’s veto blocked the renewal of a mechanism designed to attribute such crimes to identified perpetrators. In that vein, she expressed support for the new OPCW mandate to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons and called for the funding needed to fulfil that task.

The representative of the United States, warning against any military escalation in Idlib, expressed his delegation’s support for the political progress as the best way to prevent any situation whereby the regime of President Bashar al-Assad might once again use chemical weapons against its own people. Voicing strong support for the OPCW fact-finding mission and for the attribution arrangements put in place for situations in which the mission identifies a high likelihood that chemical weapons have been used, he called upon Council members to unite in support of the norm � long accepted by all � that chemical weapons have no place in our world.

However, the Russian Federation’s delegate described the Council’s consideration of so-called chemical weapons use in Syria as a political tool wielded by some countries against others. Syria destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles under OPCW oversight, he recalled, noting that there have been no indications of undeclared activities. The matter has been artificially maintained on the OPCW agenda with the single goal of tainting the reputation of the Government of Syria, he added. Citing reports that White Helmet activists are seeking civilians willing to participate in staged chemical weapons attacks in return for food, he said such actions are mere pretexts for certain States to launch operations against Syria and prove that the Russian Federation is colluding with a heinous criminal regime, he said.

Syria’s representative traced the movement of terrorist fighters from other parts of the world to his country with support from Western States, and said that the same countries manipulate the Council to further their own political agendas. Citing atrocities committed by coalition forces � as demonstrated by the recent discovery of mass civilian graves in Raqqa � he called upon the Council to end the illicit, aggressive actions of the United States and other foreign forces on his country’s soil. Syria has addressed all so-called outstanding issues and has never used chemical weapons, he stressed, vowing to combat terrorists in his country despite ongoing political bribery.

Also speaking were representatives of France, Kuwait, CAte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Peru, Poland, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Ethiopia, Netherlands and China.

The meeting began at 10:26 a.m. and ended at 12:03 p.m.

Briefing

IZUMI NAKAMITSU, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said her office has been in regular contact with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) regarding implementation of Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) on the elimination of the chemical weapons programme in Syria. Outlining developments over the past month, she said efforts to clarify outstanding issues regarding Syria’s initial declaration have not moved forward. Following the OPCW analysis of the information provided by Syria on 10 July, the Director-General sent a letter to that country’s Government reiterating the need to resolve those issues and inviting Syria to clarify remaining gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies.

Welcoming progress in conducting inspections now under way at the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities, she noted that the OPCW fact-finding mission in Syria and its efforts to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in the town of Douma is close to drawing up its conclusions and will be issuing its report on the matter in due course. She added that mission investigated five other reported incidents: two in Kharbit Masasnah in July and August 2017; one in Al-Salamiyah in August 2017; one in Yarmouk in October 2017; and one in Souran in November 2017. She recalled that the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention decided during its fourth special session in June 2017 � that the OPCW Secretariat will work to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons use in Syria in instances where the fact-finding mission determines use or likely use, or where the Joint Investigative Mechanism has not issued a report.

She went on to state that efforts to fully implement resolution 2118 (2013) continue. Moreover, so long as the use of chemical weapons is ongoing, or the threat of their use lingers, we must retain our focus on this issue and not allow ourselves to become inured to it, she stressed. Urging Council members to unite around the matter, she warned that unity will be required if the international community is to collectively re-establish the norm against chemical weapons. The vitality and credibility of the broader disarmament and non-proliferation architecture depends upon it, she added, underlining that the use of chemical weapons must always be seen as a violation of a deeply-held taboo. Noting that allegations of possible planned use of chemical weapons in Idlib Province continue to surface, she warned against risking a humanitarian catastrophe, calling for restraint on the part of all parties.

Statements

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), warning against any military escalation in Idlib Province, expressed his delegation’s support for the political work of the outgoing Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Staffan de Mistura, as the best way to prevent any situation whereby the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria might once again use chemical weapons against its own people. Calling for action against perpetrators, he emphasized that there must be justice, warning against attempts to spread misinformation and to falsely accuse the white helmets and other groups of using chemical weapons. Expressing strong support for the OPCW fact-finding mission and for the attribution arrangements put in place for situations in which the mission identifies a high likelihood that chemical weapons have been used, he called upon Council members to unite in support of the norm � long accepted by all � that chemical weapons have no place in our world.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the Council’s consideration of so-called chemical weapons use in Syria has become a political tool wielded by some countries against others. Chemical weapons stockpiles were destroyed in Syria under the oversight of the OPCW and there have been no indications of undeclared activities, he said, emphasizing that the Government of Syria has long cooperated conscientiously with the OPCW. Nevertheless, the so-called outstanding issues list has only grown longer, he pointed out. Indeed, the matter has been artificially maintained on the OPCW agenda with the single goal of tainting the reputation of the Syrian Government, he added. Its fact-finding mission bases its information on dubious sources hostile to the Government, he said, adding that a minority of States parties pushed through a resolution allowing the OPCW to identify perpetrators in a blatant encroachment on the Council’s exclusive prerogatives. Meanwhile, the Syrian Government continues to provide information about chemical weapons like chlorine gas in the hands of terrorist fighters, he said, also citing reports that White Helmet activists are seeking civilians willing to participate in staged chemical weapons incidents in return for food. Such actions are designed to provide a pretext for operations against Damascus and to back up allegations that the Russian Federation is colluding with a heinous criminal regime, he stressed.

FRANCOIS DELATTRE (France) emphasized that the priority on the ground is to preserve the ceasefire in Idlib Province, as upheld by the four parties to the Istanbul agreement. Pledging to support efforts to stabilize the situation and help Turkey separate terrorist fighters in Idlib from civilians, he also underscored the need to protect the latter and to ban all chemical weapons, as agreed in the Istanbul communique. While the regime continues to use propaganda in shifting the blame to others, the use of chemical weapons will not go without a response, he said. The world must work together � including in the Council � to prevent the further re-emergence of chemical weapons, he said, underlining that OPCW decisions to strengthen chemical weapons norms must now be translated into concrete action on the ground. Failing to do so will risk jeopardizing gains made by the global non-proliferation regime, he said, expressing support for the Impunity for Chemical Weapons initiative, the related European Union sanctions regime and the OPCW mandate to identify perpetrators in Syria. The Assad regime must abandon its a la carte approach to implementing Council resolutions related to chemical weapons, he added.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) recalled that at this time in 2017, the Council had a mechanism that could investigate chemical crimes and prevent recurrences. Following the unfortunate non-renewal of that mechanism, such efforts had to be handed over to other entities, he noted. Calling upon the Council to shoulder its own responsibility and speak with one voice on the chemical weapons use dossier. He reiterated his delegation’s support for the fact-finding mission’s efforts to determine the truth of the April 2018 attacks, and called upon Syrian authorities to reveal all details of its chemical weapons programme. At the same time, he condemned any use of such weapons, calling for accountability on the part of any party that uses them.

KACOU HOUADJA LA�ON ADOM (CAte d’Ivoire) welcomed Syria’s efforts to respond to concerns over its chemical weapons programme and encouraged its Government to cooperate further on the issue. He said the use of chemical weapons represents a grave violation of human rights, stressing the critical need for the Council to address the issue strongly. Welcoming the renewals of OPCW’s mandate, he called upon all parties to engage speedily in dialogue leading to a political solution of the conflict in Syria.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) described the destruction of previously declared chemical weapons as an important step forward, and called for any discrepancies in the initial declaration to be cleared up to meet the obligations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The incident in Douma as well as the other five incidents noted must be investigated thoroughly, he emphasized, urging all parties to cooperate in that effort. A mechanism for attributing responsibility is also needed to ensure accountability and prevent further use, he said, underlining that the international community must unite to prevent the production, trade, use and storage of chemical weapons by whomsoever, wherever.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said it is beyond belief that the Council is not taking unified action to uphold the prohibition on chemical weapons. The eradication of such horrible weapons must be a universal goal, she emphasized, expressing regret over the Russian Federation’s vetoing of the attribution mechanism’s renewal, she urged support for the new OPCW mandate to attribute responsibility for incidents of chemical weapons use, adding that it should receive the funding it needs to fulfil that task. Describing allegations against the White Helmets of terrorism and using prohibited weapons as fabricated and absurd, she pledged the appropriate response to any further chemical attacks.

FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru) condemned the use of chemical weapons wherever it occurs, describing it as a direct attack on non-proliferation principles. The Syrian authorities must clear up discrepancies in their declaration, he said, adding that he looks forward to the results of OPCW’s work in that context as well as in determining responsibility for the attacks in Douma and for other such barbaric acts. The prosecution of those responsible must follow to prevent further perpetration of such crimes and to help consolidate the rule of law in Syria, he emphasized.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) noted that the sixty-first OPCW report does not provide information allowing for a statement that the declaration by the Syrian Arab Republic could be considered accurate, complete and in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. Expressing support for the fact-finding mission’s professional efforts to maintain and strengthen the effectiveness and integrity of the Convention, said her delegation is concerned about the reports of chemical agents used as weapons in Saraqib, Ltamenah and Douma. Condemning the use of chemical weapons, she expressed concern about the Russian Federation’s obstruction of OPCW’s work through repeated attempts to undermine its integrity through hostile cyber operations.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDA�N (Bolivia) encouraged the Syrian Government to continue working to clarify the concerns raised by OPCW, noting that transparency and cooperation are the best paths forward. The Secretariat should carry out in situ investigations in places where chemicals weapons are alleged to have been used, he said, also calling for the inspection of suspected chemical weapons facilities. Since the use of chemical weapons is a serious violation of international law and life itself, all perpetrators must be held accountable, he said, emphasizing that the Council must therefore maintain its unity in order to carry out an impartial investigation aimed at identifying and holding perpetrators to account. While that responsibility has regrettably been transferred to the OPCW, Bolivia nevertheless supports that Organization and looks forward to the results of its investigations in Douma and elsewhere, he said. Underlining the importance of full respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he also stressed the importance of upholding the Idlib agreement and of making progress on the political process, including by convening Syria’s constitutional committee.

KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) said there was still little tangible progress on outstanding chemical weapons issues, urging the Council to focus more on providing assistance aimed at enhancing cooperation and collaboration between the OPCW and the Syrian Government. It should also facilitate the effective investigation of all reported chemical weapons incidents in Syria. Every month we only hear that investigations in Douma and others are continuing, he said, expressing concern that Council members do not hear details about how such procedures are carried out, what problems or obstacles arise or how they are resolved. The lack of impunity and the absence of preventive measures represent additional stumbling blocks that prevent the international community from effectively countering the continued threat posed by chemical weapons, he said, emphasizing that the Council must stay united in tirelessly seeking a comprehensive solution to the issues of attribution and prosecution without transferring such prerogatives to other structures. To do so would be subjecting these issues to further risks of politicization and polarization, he warned.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) recalled the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s conclusion that Syria and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) used chemical weapons in Syria, which amounts to a war crime. To ensure those responsible are held accountable, Sweden joined the International Partnership against Impunity, led by France, and supported the decision by the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to put arrangements in place to identify perpetrators, he said. While a mechanism established by the Council would have been preferable, the issue is too important to be blocked indefinitely, he said, stressing that the Conference’s decision does not relieve the Council of its responsibility. He urged Syrian authorities to declare and destroy all remaining chemical weapons, in accordance with resolution 2118 (2113), and cooperate fully and actively with the OPCW so that the accuracy and completeness of their declaration can ultimately be verified.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) noted that the OPCW Director-General has sent a letter to Syria’s Government emphasizing the importance of resolving outstanding issues. Stressing the importance of meaningful and results-oriented communications and continued consultations, she noted that the fact-finding mission continues its investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma in April, and called upon all parties to cooperate in that investigation, looking forward to the final report. Moreover, the fact-finding mission continues to collect and analyse information related to five other alleged uses of chemical weapons, she noted, emphasizing that any such use is totally unacceptable. Restoring the unity of the Council is the most sensible way forward to make tangible progress towards ensuring accountability, she said.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said it is unacceptable that, almost five years after Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, its declaration cannot be verified as accurate and complete. He also expressed concern about the attitude of the Russian Federation, among other States, during recent discussions within the OPCW on the 2019 budget, stating that by frustrating those discussions, that country delays the legitimate establishment of the attribution mechanism. He called upon that country to engage constructively and demonstrate support in that context. Moreover, the OPCW’s sharing of information with the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism can make an important contribution to the fight against impunity in Syria. Describing referral of the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court as by far the best option, he said the regime’s escalating violence in Idlib will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

MA ZHAOXU (China), Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, calling for dialogue among all sides to allow the earliest possible OPCW investigations into chemical weapons use in Syria. Expressing support for the fact-finding mission, he emphasized that it must carry out its work in strict adherence to its mandate. China condemns any use of chemical weapons, he said, stressing that all use of such weapons must be subject to impartial investigations to ensure accountability. As the issue of chemical weapons in Syria is closely related to the quest for a political solution to the wider crisis, China calls upon all stakeholders to resolve any differences through constructive dialogue and to ensure full respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he stressed.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), called attention to particular terrorist fighters who reached his country after release from the United States prison in Guantanamo Bay � and after receiving funding and support from that country � saying the Government of Syria identified one of them who was able to transfer toxic chemicals from Turkey into Idlib on behalf of Al-Nusrah Front. Outlining the man’s connection with Turkish companies – which provided him with red and white phosphorous and other chemicals � he said the aim was to use those agents and blame their crimes on the Syrian Government.

He went on to affirm that certain countries continue to manipulate the Council and other United Nations platforms to further their own political agendas, including by covering up their own crimes in Syria and their support for armed groups � including helping terrorists acquire and use chemical weapons. Describing other unprecedented atrocities committed by coalition forces, he recalled the recent tragic discovery in Raqqa of mass graves containing the bodies of more than 4,000 civilians, mostly women, children and elderly persons. Such findings demonstrate the veracity of the Syrian Government’s many reports to the Council on the crimes committed in that city, he said.

Calling upon Council members to deliver on their responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, he said that in particular, the Council must end the illicit, aggressive actions of the United States and other foreign forces on Syrian soil. Emphasizing Syria’s long-standing commitment to countering the use of weapons of mass destruction, he warned certain States to stop manipulating the Council’s activities to advance vain, provocative and unfounded allegations against his country, underlining that the real elephant in the room is the fact that those Western countries who accuse Syria’s Government of using chemical weapons actually support their use by terrorist groups. As for the OPCW fact-finding mission, he said that team violated its mandate by adopting a selective approach in its investigation.

Meanwhile, Western countries continue to turn a blind eye to repeated use of white phosphorous-based weapons against Syrian civilians, he said, recalling that the Syrian Government’s most recent letter to the Council alerted members to a large explosion on 18 October in a factory near the border with Turkey. Turning to the so-called outstanding issues raised by the OPCW, he said the Government has amply studied and addressed all such matters, and calls for changes to the assessment team’s composition with the aim of redressing its current one-sided approach. Reiterating that the Syrian Government has never used chemical weapons, having fully destroyed its stockpile years ago, he emphasized: This case is closed. Syria will continue to combat terrorist activities on Syrian soil despite ongoing political bribery by some States, he vowed.

Source: United Nations

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