Amid New Reports of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria, United Nations Top Disarmament Official Says International Community Obliged to Enact Meaningful Response

SC/13196
5 February 2018
8174th Meeting (AM)

Amid New Reports of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria, United Nations Top Disarmament Official Says International Community Obliged to Enact Meaningful Response

There was still work to be done before the international community could have shared confidence that the Government of Syria’s chemical weapons programme had been eliminated, the Security Council heard today, as it was briefed by the United Nations top disarmament official on recent events in the war-torn country.

Allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria continued, including new ones from the past weekend, said Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, stressing:  “This makes abundantly clear our continuing and collective responsibility to ensure that those responsible are held to account.”

New reports by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission were pending, and should they conclude that there had been the use, or likely use of chemical weapons in any of those alleged incidents, the international community’s obligation to enact a meaningful response would be further intensified, she emphasized.

The representative of the United States said it was evident that the Syrian regime had used chemical gas against its people, which she described as “appalling”.  The regime’s obligations were clear — it must immediately stop using chemical weapons, and it must destroy all such remaining arms.  Despite the urgency of those goals, the Council had spent much of 2017 watching one country protect Syria and refuse to hold it responsible.

Any future investigative instrument should be free of politics and controlled by experts, not politicians or diplomats, she continued.  The latest Russian Federation draft resolution did not meet those criteria.  That country wanted to be able to cherry-pick the investigators, and insert arbitrary investigative standards.  Further, it wanted the Council to review any material to decide what made it into the final report.

The Russian Federation’s representative stressed that some statements from delegations were not focusing on Syria, but rather were being used to slander his country following the success of the Syrian national dialogue in Sochi.  Those delegations were concerned about efforts to breathe new life into the process and had undertaken powerful slander campaigns against the Russian Federation to cast doubts on its role in the political settlement process in Syria.

A fact-finding mission should be sent to relevant areas to conduct work, he continued, adding that any conclusions needed to be preceded by an investigation.  His country’s draft resolution would replace the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism that had been shut down.

China’s representative expressed support for the establishment of a comprehensive, impartial investigation into any alleged use of chemical weapons, which would help bring the perpetrators to justice.  The creation of a new mechanism was critical to get to the bottom of the chemical weapons issue and ward off any future occurrences, and in that context, China supported the work of the Russian Federation to create a new mechanism.

The representative of France said any established investigative instrument must align with the essential standards of independence, impartiality and professionalism, which prevailed when the Joint Investigative Mechanism was established.  Impunity in Syria was not an option and perpetrators would be held accountable.  In that connection, France had launched the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, bringing together States that rejected impunity for those who carried out chemical weapons attacks.

The representative of Syria underscored that his country had joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and honoured all its commitments under that agreement, while also achieving a tremendous feat by ending the Syrian chemical weapons programme, both definitively and in record time; a fact confirmed by the Joint Investigative Mechanism.  Syria was keen to establish the truth and would continue to support any initiative undertaken by the Council when its aim was to seek the truth and shed light on who was responsible for harming civilians in Syria.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Peru, Sweden, Poland, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Netherlands, Ethiopia and Kuwait.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:44 a.m.

Briefing

IZUMI NAKAMITSU, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, recalled that, at the time of her last briefing, planning was under way with regard to the destruction of the remaining two stationary above-ground facilities of the 27 such facilities declared by Syria.  The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), working with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), was currently finalizing a contract with a private company to carry that work, which should be completed within two months.  There had been some developments on the issues related to Syria’s initial declaration and subsequent amendments, including the completion of the translation and analysis of documents which were provided to OPCW by the Government of Syria in November.  The OPCW indicated that the information provided clarifications on some issues, although it was continuing to follow-up with the Government of Syria on remaining gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies.

Further to its routine inspections in Syria, samples taken by the OPCW team during its second inspection at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre were currently being analysed by two OPCW-designated laboratories and the Executive Council would be informed of the results of that inspection, she said.  The OPCW fact-finding mission continued to look into all allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the majority of which involved the use of toxic chemicals, such as chlorine, in areas not under the control of the Government.  The mission expected to submit a report on those allegations soon; while a report on another team’s investigation into allegations of the use of chemical weapons brought to the attention of OPCW by the Government of Syria was also pending.

There was still work to do before resolution 2118 (2013) could be considered to have been fully implemented and for the international community to have shared confidence that the chemical weapons programme of the Syrian Government had been eliminated, she said.  Allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria had continued, including new allegations from the past weekend, she said, stressing:  “This makes abundantly clear our continuing and collective responsibility to ensure that those responsible are held to account,” she said.  New reports by the mission were pending, and should they conclude that there had been the use, or likely use of chemical weapons in any of those alleged incidents, the international community’s obligation to enact a meaningful response would be further intensified.  She said that it was her hope, as well as that of the Secretary-General, that such a response would favour unity, not impunity.

Statements

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said that she had heard the news out of Syria that morning of troubling reports of another attack in that country on 4 February.  Victims of what appeared to be chorine gas were pouring into hospitals.  The use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad was appalling.  The regime’s obligations were clear.  It must immediately stop using chemical weapons, and it must destroy all such remaining arms.  Those were urgent goals, and yet the Security Council had spent much of 2017 watching one country protect it and refuse to hold it responsible.  Everyone looking on could see a Council that could not agree to act, even after the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism it created found evidence of chemical weapons.  It was evident that the regime had used chemical gas against its people.

A Security Council press statement had been proposed that would condemn the attack, she continued.  The Russian Federation had delayed that condemnation, and she hoped that it would take the appropriate steps to adopt that text.  Regarding the Mechanism, the Russian Federation had acted alone to kill it in 2017.  Any such instrument should be free of politics and controlled by experts, not politicians or diplomats.  The latest Russian Federation draft resolution did not meet any of those criteria.  It ignored the findings of the Mechanism, which the that country supported until it found that the Syrian regime was responsible.  The Russian Federation wanted to be able to cherry-pick the investigators, and insert arbitrary investigative standards.  It also wanted the Council to review any material to decide what made it into the final report.  It was a way to whitewash the findings of the last investigation that the Russian Federation wanted to bury.  She applauded the efforts of France to launch the international partnership to end impunity for chemical weapons use.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) condemned the series of reported chemical attacks in eastern Ghouta in the last months as the Assad regime continued its bombing of civilians.  He said he was appalled by the reported deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure.  The OPCW was already investing reports of chemical weapons use, but establishing the perpetrators would be difficult, as the Russian Federation had used its veto three times against the Mechanism to protect the Syrian regime.  Any successive mechanism must be empowered to investigate all use of chemical weapons, wherever.  The proposal of the Russian Federation focused only on non-State actors.  Given Assad’s track record, it was imperative that any new mechanism investigated any such use by the Syrian regime.  He noted that his second objection to the Russian Federation’s draft proposals was that it noted that the Council would have to review the evidence and decide upon its meaning.   The entire purpose of the Mechanism was that an independent panel review the evidence, not Member States, as they had been unable to agree.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) noted that this was the second time the Security Council had convened in less than two weeks following reports of chlorine use against civilians in Syria.  The use of toxic weapons in Syria continued unabated, he said, underscoring that the Syrian regime had already been found responsible for four of those instances.  The stakes went beyond the Syrian dossier, as weapons that were thought to be confined to the past were being systematically used by the Syrian regime.  There were suspicions about the Syrian stockpiles, as inspectors continued to find evidence of undeclared weapons, without any credible explanations being provided.  The situation undermined regional stability, eroded the non-proliferation regime, weakened the international security architecture, violated the law and flouted the most basic principles of humanity.  That situation could not be allowed to become commonplace and perpetrators must be held to account, which was the Council’s shared responsibility.

The perpetrators that continued the use of those weapons must be punished, he said.  The obstruction of various initiatives put forward by the international community stoked impunity, which was why France had launched a partnership that brought together States that rejected impunity for those who carried out chemical weapons attacks.  Any established investigative mechanism must align with the essential standards of independence, impartiality and professionalism, which prevailed when the Joint Investigative Mechanism was established.  Impunity in Syria was not an option and perpetrators would be held accountable, sooner or later.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said that there could be no justification for the use of chemical weapons, no matter who had used them.  The use of such weapons was a grave crime against international law and a threat to international peace and security.  His country categorically condemned the use of chemical weapons as an unjustifiable criminal act and he expressed great concern about the use of such arms in Syria, including in eastern Ghouta.  The Council must remain united to ensure justice.  He called on the Government of Syria to cooperate with OPCW with regard to the investigations that were taking place and called on all parties to cooperate fully and prepare viable and reliable information.  It was essential to have an impartial mechanism to carry out a conclusive investigation to find those responsible for such acts and the creation of a new mechanism must be done in a non-political fashion.  In that connection, he considered the Russian Federation proposal as a new opportunity to achieve that goal.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said that he strongly condemned any use of chemical weapons and such threats must be eliminated.  There must be accountability for the perpetrators of such crimes.  He supported the work of OPCW, and noted that the speedy destruction of the remaining chemical weapons protection facilities was of utmost importance.  It would help to dispel any doubts on the issues.  During the inspection of the facilities all samples were sent to the OPCW laboratory, and he looked forward to the follow-up of that work.  The continued reports on the alleged use of chemical weapons were alarming, but the most disturbing part was that the Council had no mechanism to investigate such reports.  Because of the current developments, a new mechanism should be established at the earliest possible opportunity.  The Council members were not experts on chemical weapons, but had to act on credible evidence provided by an investigative body, and his country supported consultations on the creation of a new instrument.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that his country condemned the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances, and their use against the civilian population of Syria was a war crime and a flagrant violation of international law.  Those responsible should be held accountable.  The Syrian Government should comply with its obligations.  There had been recent progress, including the destruction of the two last facilities for producing chemical weapons, as well as the provision of new financial resources to that end.  Key points of the declaration of the Syrian Government had not been verified.  On the allegations of new attacks with chemical weapons, he said there was an urgent need to bring to justice the perpetrators of those atrocities.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that the use of chemical weapons in armed conflict amounted to a war crime and perpetrators of such actions must be held accountable.  For that reason, Sweden had jointed the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons and supported all efforts to combat the use and proliferation of chemical weapons by State or non-State actors, anywhere in the world.  Sweden counted on that initiative to complement and support the international community’s collective work in multilateral fora, as well as the existing multilateral mechanisms, to achieve unity around those goals.  He echoed the Secretary-General’s call to hold accountable those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which was why Sweden had engaged in negotiations aimed at establishing a new independent and impartial investigative mechanism.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that her delegation was looking forward to the results of the ongoing investigations into the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which continued to pose a threat to the people of that country and constituted a serious challenge to international peace and security.  There was a real need for a clear message to be sent that impunity for perpetrators of such crimes was not an option.  The use of chemical weapons by anyone, State or non-State actors, anywhere in the world, under any circumstances must be rigorously condemned and those that carried out such acts must be held accountable.  Her delegation supported the creation of an investigative mechanism that would carry out its work with impartiality and transparency.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said that the political and humanitarian crisis in Syria was reaching alarming proportions.  He condemned the loss of many civilian lives, and called on all parties to comply with international law on the protection of civilians, by making a distinction between military and civilian targets.  His country expressed its satisfaction at the destruction of the facilities producing chemical weapons.  Nevertheless, while he welcomed the cooperation between the Government of Syria and OPCW, vigilance was needed, and the denouncement of chemical weapons production and use needed to be condemned.  He condemned the use of chemical weapons, no matter who used them.  Those accountable for those horrendous acts must be brought to justice.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that pending issues dealing with the declaration needed to be dealt with in a dialogue between Syria and OPCW.  Syria was a conscientious member of the Chemical Weapons Convention and would provide access to documents related to that matter.  Many officially raised issues should be closed and cast aside.  The production place of chemical weapons had been destroyed.  The Syrian side had continuously reported to the international community regarding the detection of dangerous chemical substances in areas liberated from terrorists.  That must be investigated by the specialized experts of OPCW.  He noted that, as a general rule, titanic efforts were needed at The Hague to react to the necessary message.  There was a pretext being put forward not to travel there and decisions were being delayed.

In today’s meeting, some statements from delegations were not focusing on Syria, he said.  Instead, it was being used by the representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom to slander the Russian Federation.  It was taking place because some were concerned about the success of the Syrian national dialogue in Sochi.  They were concerned over efforts to breathe new life into the process.  They had undertaken powerful slander campaigns against the Russian Federation to cast doubts on its role in the political settlement process in Syria.  Terrorists, through so-called civic organizations, were disseminating rumours in social networks that were immediately taken up by western networks, and members of the Council were now taking that up and spreading slander.  An OPCW fact-finding mission should be sent to relevant areas to investigate.  Any conclusions needed to be preceded by an investigation.  It should be clear to everyone that capitals sending representatives to the Council needed no such investigation, as instead they needed to follow their political agendas.  His country’s draft resolution would replace the Mechanism that had been shut down.  He stood ready to adopt the press statement, but not in the form that had been proposed by its sponsors.  Its pre-set goal was to baselessly accuse the Syrian Government of chemical weapons use.  The reference to Article 7 of the United Nations Charter left no doubt as to what the crux of the statement was.  He could not accept unconfirmed references to chemical weapons use.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) said his delegation was deeply troubled by reports about the potential use of chemical weapons in Syria, specifically in eastern Ghouta, which constituted a considerable setback in efforts to combat chemical weapons use in Syria.  The suffering that had been inflicted on that country’s people was unacceptable and must be put to an end.  The most recent allegations once again brought to the forefront the responsibility shouldered by the Council to expeditiously end such actions and identify the perpetrators of such acts.  Inaction could be interpreted as a weakness of the Council and a green card for impunity, and in that context, the Council must set up a consensus-based framework capable of identifying perpetrators and holding them accountable.  His country reiterated its emphatic condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and eagerly awaited the conclusions of the ongoing investigations.

WU HAITAO(China) said his country supported OPCW in continuing its coordination and cooperation with the Government of Syria and expressed its sympathy to that country’s people.  No use of chemical weapons would be tolerated, he stressed, adding that China was deeply concerned by the recent reports of the use of such weapons.  China was firmly against the use of chemical weapons and supported the establishment of a comprehensive, impartial investigation into any alleged use of such arms, which would help bring the perpetrators to justice.  The establishment of a new investigative mechanism was critical to getting to the bottom of the chemical weapons issue and to ward off any future occurrences, and in that context, China supported the work of the Russian Federation to create a new mechanism.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) echoed the outrage expressed over reports of chemical attacks, recalling that, in Douma, eastern Ghouta, Idlib, and last night in Saraqeb, civilians, including children, had become victims once again.  Other reports indicated that OPCW laboratory tests had found that samples of the chemical attack on Ghouta in August 2013 corresponded to the weapons arsenal declared in 2014 and the Khan Shaykhun attack in 2017.  That confirmed again the suspicion that the Assad regime continued to use chemical weapons against its own population.  Impunity had eroded the important prohibition of chemical weapons use, he said, recalling that the Council had had a professional Mechanism to ensure accountability in Syria, equipped with a strong mandate to investigate and identity perpetrators, and it had done so accordingly.  But, its renewal had fallen to politics.  That did not mean the Council must settle for less.  The Netherlands was prepared to work on any proposal that strengthened accountability and the international rule of law.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed concern over reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, as the use of those arms was unjustifiable under any circumstance.  He could not agree more with the Secretary-General that the continued allegations of chemical weapon use highlighted the shared obligation to identify and hold to account those responsible for such use.  Unity in the Council was important, without which its ability to respond to grave threats to international security would be hampered.  He expressed regret that the Council had been unable to renew the Mechanism’s mandate.  If that institutional gap was not addressed, and unity forged, the Council would send the wrong message and encourage impunity, he said.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, recalled that resolution 2118 (2013), adopted after the first evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria, should have brought an end to such acts.  At the time, the Council had displayed unity and determination in confronting that crime.  It was regrettable to see a “recession” in the Council’s approach to tackling chemical weapons use in Syria, marked by a lack of unity after the end of the Mechanism.  He expressed concern over allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria as recently as last night, the third such attack in several weeks.  The perpetrators would likely go unpunished as there was no guarantee of holding them accountable.  He looked forward to consensus among Council members in order to hold those using chemical weapons to account.

Mr. ALLEN (United Kingdom) said that preventing the use of chemical weapons should transcend political disagreement.  His delegation did not oppose the Russian Federation’s involvement in finding a solution to the crisis in Syria; nevertheless, the notion that it was anyone other than the Russia Federation that ended the Joint Investigative Mechanism was simply false.  The voting records of the Council were clear and available for all, and showed that it was the Russian Federation that had vetoed the extension of the Mechanism multiple times.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) condemned and rejected in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons.  The targets of such weapons were the Syrian people, the primary victims of armed terrorist groups using those arms.  Syria had joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and honoured all its commitments under that agreement, while also achieving a tremendous feat by ending the Syrian chemical weapons programme, both definitively and in record time; a fact confirmed by the Joint Investigative Mechanism.  Syria was keen to establish the truth and would continue to support any initiative undertaken by the Council when its aim was to establish the truth and shed light on who was responsible for harming human life in Syria.  He reiterated his condemnation of all Western accusations that his Government was responsible for launching chemical weapons attacks.  The United States, United Kingdom and France bore full responsibility for the international community’s inability to establish a new international investigative mechanism.  False accusations against Syria were part and parcel of an attempt to cover up the fact that innocent civilians had been killed by armed terrorist groups.

For information media. Not an official record.