Evidence of ‘Sulfur Mustard’, Exposure to Sarin, Found in Samples from Alleged Syria Chemical Attacks, Disarmament Affairs Chief Tells Security Council

SC/12832
23 May 2017
7946th Meeting (AM)

Evidence of ‘Sulfur Mustard’, Exposure to Sarin, Found in Samples from Alleged Syria Chemical Attacks, Disarmament Affairs Chief Tells Security Council

‘This Is Not an Issue to Be Politicized’, Says High Representative, Stressing also that United Nations Cannot Be Neutral

Initial findings from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission in Syria had found evidence of sulfur mustard in samples taken from an alleged attack on 16 September 2016, while analysis of samples collected in relation to an alleged April incident in Khan Shaykhoun had revealed exposure to sarin or a sarin-like substance, the United Nations disarmament chief reported today.

“This is an issue about which the United Nations cannot be neutral,” Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, declared in a briefing to the Security Council.  Addressing members for the first time since her recent appointment, she emphasized that the use of chemical weapons by any actor — whether Government forces, terrorist factions or armed opposition groups — could never be justified, regardless of provocation or circumstance.

Outlining the contents of several recent OPCW reports, including one on the alleged 16 September 2016 incident (document S/2017/400), she said OPCW had deployed a fact-finding mission on two occasions following allegations of chemical weapons use on that date in the area of Um Hosh, in the Aleppo countryside.  Members of the mission had conducted interviews, collected testimonies and reviewed documents, as well as information provided by the Syrian authorities, she added.

While the prevailing security situation had prevented the team from visiting the site of the alleged incident, she continued, it had nevertheless been able to review analyses of blood samples from two female casualties reported to have been involved in the attack.  They had been found to have suffered exposure to sulfur mustard, as had a mortar handed over to the team by the Russian Federation’s Chemical, Biological, Nuclear and Radiological Team.

Regarding the reported incident in Khan Shaykhoun on 4 April — the focus of another OPCW report (document S/2017/440) — she said that, after a preliminary assessment, a fact-finding mission had been deployed to a neighbouring country, where it had conducted interviews and witnessed the collection of biomedical samples from the alleged incident.  It had also received biological-environmental samples from dead animals reported to have been close to the suspected impact point, attended the autopsies of three alleged victims, and witnessed the extraction of biomedical samples from their bodies.

Emphasizing that the report was not the final one, she said work remained to be done and all materials and information collected were currently being analysed.  The fact-finding team was planning a possible visit to Khan Shaykhoun, but since the town was not under Government control, OPCW had formally requested that the United Nations provide support in the form of security, logistical and operational assistance.

She went on to outline recent developments in the efforts of her office to implement Council resolution 2118 (2013) on the elimination of Syria’s declared chemical weapons programme, outlined in OPCW’s forty-third report on that matter (document S/2017/373).  The situation relating to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities remained unchanged, she noted, recalling that OPCW had verified the destruction of 24 of the 27 declared facilities.  The prevailing security situation continued to preclude safe access to the three remaining sites.

Despite expectations that efforts to address unresolved issues relating to Syria’s declaration and subsequent amendments would move forward with high-level consultations in The Hague, she said, a decision had been taken to postpone the talks in order to ensure that they would be as fruitful as possible.

As for the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, she said it was now studying the reports of the fact-finding missions and would keep the Council informed of the next steps.  Encouraging all Member States to support the Mechanism, she warned that the world must not allow itself to become inured to ongoing allegations of chemical weapons use, emphasizing that their re-emergence could not be viewed as anything other than a violation of the most basic international law.  “This is not an issue to be politicized,” she stressed.

Following the briefing, Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia) reiterated his country’s firm and absolute condemnation of chemical weapons, emphasizing that their use by anyone, anywhere, was a serious violation of international human rights law.  Those responsible must be investigated rigorously and brought to justice, he said.  However, only an inclusive political transition led by the Syrian people themselves would resolve the conflict in that country.

Council President Elbio Rosselli (Uruguay) spoke in his national capacity, underlining that the use of chemical weapons constituted war crimes for which those responsible must be brought to justice.  Until the Syrian arsenal was destroyed or safely stored away, the Council could not close the chemical weapons dossier, he said.  Recalling the Council’s failure to adopt measures that would have facilitated the investigation of such crimes, he urged members enjoying veto power to refrain from wielding it in cases involving war crimes.

At the outset of the meeting, Council members stood for a minute of silence in honour of the victims of the 22 May terrorist attack on a concert hall in Manchester, United Kingdom, which had claimed the lives of 22 people so far.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:35 a.m.

For information media. Not an official record.