In Event of Recurrence, Text Signals Chapter VII Action
Following the latest findings by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Security Council today condemned in the strongest terms any use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria, signalling it would take “Chapter VII” action if such arms were used again in the nearly four-year-old conflict.
By a vote of 14 in favour, zero against, and 1 abstention (Venezuela), the Council adopted resolution 2209 (2015), expressing deep concern that toxic chemicals had been used as a weapon in Syria, as concluded with a “high degree of confidence” by the OPCW fact-finding mission. It decided that in the event of non-compliance with resolution 2118 (2013), it would impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Toxic chemicals used as a weapon would violate resolution 2118 (2013) and the Chemical Weapons Convention, it stated.
[Chapter VII covers “Action With Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression”, allowing States to use all possible means, including economic sanctions and military action, to enforce United Nations resolutions. By resolution 2118 (2013), the Council endorsed the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme and agreed to impose Chapter VII measures in the event of non-compliance.]
Further to today’s resolution, the Council recalled its decision that Syria should not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer them — directly or indirectly — to other States or non-State actors. It reiterated that no party in the country should act as such.
By other terms, the Council expressed support for the 4 February OPCW Executive Council decision to continue the work of the fact-finding mission, in particular to study all available information relating to allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria. Stressing that those responsible for use of chemical weapons — including chlorine — must be held accountable, the Council called on all parties to fully cooperate with the mission.
Speaking after the adoption, the representative of Venezuela said he had abstained because the vote prejudged the results of the ongoing OPCW investigation. That inquiry should first conclude, in order to determine responsibility. Syria was a victim of armed groups that fuelled hatred and violence, and that also had major military capacity.
The representative of the Russian Federation stressed that only the OPCW guiding bodies could determine violations of the chemical weapons ban. He did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII without attempts to confirm use of such chemicals.
Yet, the Council could not sit idle in the face of violations to resolution 2118 (2013), said the representative of France. His country stood ready to take measures under Chapter VII.
Along similar lines, the representative of the United Kingdom said today’s resolution put the Syrian regime on notice that the further use of chlorine gas would prompt the Council towards additional action.
Also speaking today were the representatives of China, United States and Jordan.
Making further statements were the representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States.
The meeting began at 12:40 p.m. and ended at 1:12 p.m.
The full text of resolution 2209 (2015) reads as follows:
“The Security Council,
“Recalling the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC), and the Council’s resolutions 1540 (2004) and 2118 (2013),
“Recalling that in resolution 2118 the Council decided that the Syrian Arab Republic shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to other States or non-State actors and that the Council underscored that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer chemical weapons,
“Recalling that the Syrian Arab Republic acceded to the CWC, noting that the use of any toxic chemical, such as chlorine, as a chemical weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic is a violation of resolution 2118, and further noting that any such use by the Syrian Arab Republic would constitute a violation of the CWC,
“Noting that chlorine was the chemical first used as a chemical weapon on a large scale in the Battle of Ypres in April 1915,
“Noting the first, second, and third reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact-Finding Mission, which was mandated to establish the facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic,
“Noting the decision of the OPCW Executive Council of 4 February 2015 that, while stating diverse views on these reports, expressed serious concern regarding the findings of the Mission made with a high degree of confidence that chlorine has been used repeatedly and systematically as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic,
“Noting that this is the first ever documented instance of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons within the territory of a State Party to the CWC,
“Reaffirming that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious violation of international law and reiterating that those individuals responsible for any use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,
“1. Condemns in the strongest terms any use of any toxic chemical, such as chlorine, as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic;
“2. Expresses deep concern that toxic chemicals have been used as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic as concluded with a high degree of confidence by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission and notes that such use of toxic chemicals as a weapon would constitute a violation of resolution 2118 and of the CWC;
“3. Recalls its decision that the Syrian Arab Republic shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or, transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to other States or non-State actors;
“4. Reiterates that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer chemical weapons;
“5. Expresses support for the OPCW Executive Council decision of 4 February 2015 to continue the work of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission, in particular to study all available information relating to allegations of use of chemical weapons in Syria and welcomes the intention of the OPCW Director-General to include further reports of the Mission as part of his monthly reports to the Security Council;
“6. Stresses that those individuals responsible for any use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, must be held accountable, and calls on all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic to extend their full cooperation to the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission;
“7. Recalls the decisions made by the Security Council in resolution 2118, and in this context decides in the event of future non-compliance with resolution 2118 to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter;
“8. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”
Speaking after action, RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said he had abstained from the vote as it prejudged the result of the ongoing investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into the use of chlorine gas in the Syrian conflict. That investigation should first be concluded in order to determine the responsibility of various actors. Syria was a victim of armed groups that fuelled hatred, intolerance and violence. Those groups also had major military capacity. OPCW information on the removal of chemical weapons was evidence that Syria had complied with resolution 2118 (2013), he said, citing the need for peaceful conflict resolution among all parties, in line with Chapter VI of United Nations Charter. He fully supported the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy in efforts to achieve lasting peace among all sectors of Syrian society. Today’s resolution opened a dangerous path to the use of force, jeopardizing dialogue that had begun in Moscow and Cairo to end the conflict peacefully.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said he had voted in favour of the text. At the same time, his Government was guided by the principle of unacceptability of chemical weapons use. The OPCW fact-finding mission should conduct its work based on professionalism, impartiality and solid proof. There should be strict observance of the General Assembly resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the OPCW, which stated that, in extreme cases, the OPCW Executive Council could communicate to the Assembly and the Security Council through established procedure. The Russian Federation would strictly base its position on the fact that only the guiding bodies of OPCW could determine violations of the chemical weapons ban, as outlined in the 14 September 2013 communiqué. He did not accept the possible use of sanctions under Chapter VII without attempts to confirm use of such chemicals.
WANG MIN (China) said his country resolutely opposed the use of chemical weapons and stressed the need to maintain the primacy of the OPCW in that regard. He hoped that all relevant parties would implement resolution 2209 (2015) fully and sincerely. Any further action must be addressed and agreed upon separately, he stressed.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said the resolution adopted today made it crystal clear that the use of chlorine weapons was no less evil than that of chemical weapons. The OPCW mission was not mandated to apportion culpability, she said, adding that some Council members sought to equate absence of culpability with exoneration. Only the regime of Bashar al-Assad had the capabilities to deploy and use chlorine weapons and must be held accountable for its violation of international law.
MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) said there were still persistent and credible reports of the use of chemical weapons. That could not be accepted as business as usual. The first recorded use of chemical weapons occurred almost a century ago; it was abhorrent then, and it was abhorrent now. The United Kingdom believed that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court, but faced opposition from two permanent members of the Council. Today’s resolution put the Syrian regime on notice that any further use of chlorine gas would prompt the Council towards further action.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) had voted for the resolution, as the Council must address the issue according to its Charter prerogatives. Chemical weapons use would have serious consequences for both Syria and the region. He condemned any chemical weapons use in Syria, saying that the perpetrators must be prosecuted. Such acts constituted war crimes against innocent civilians. The conclusions of the OPCW mission into the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria must be considered. “This is a crime and violation of international humanitarian law and international criminal law, as well as resolution 2118 (2013),” he said. Chapter VII measures should be imposed in case of non-implementation of that resolution. A monitoring mechanism should ensure that chemical weapons and facilities would never be carried out in Syria.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that his country had voted in favour of the resolution because the Council could not remain silent in the face of chemical weapons attacks carried out in 2014. The text sent a strong message against chemical toxin use as a weapon of war by anyone. That the OPCW had confirmed chlorine had been used as a war weapon was “profoundly worrisome”, as only the Syrian regime had such a capacity. Through the resolution, the Council supported the OPCW’s work in The Hague. The charges were ongoing and he urged vigilance in that regard, saying that Syria must cooperate with the inquiry. The Council could not stand “idly by” in the face of violations of resolution 2118 (2013). France stood ready to take measures under Chapter VII of the Charter.
Taking the floor again, Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said the statement by the representative of the United States sought to put the onus of adherence to resolution 2118 (2013) on the Syrian Government. However, that resolution was aimed at all parties. The United States and the United Kingdom also held the Syrian regime responsible for using chlorine gas. However, a careful reading of the OPCW investigation suggests that it was not based on conclusive ground to warrant such accusations. Furthermore, there were critical gaps in the report. The Council could adopt a professional and expert approach or a media-based approach and rush to blame the Syrian Government while shielding those who might have been really responsible.
Also taking the floor a second time, Ms. POWER (United States) urged Council members and others to read the well-documented reports of experts. It was unusual for the Russian Federation to claim that the party whose chemical weapon stockpiles were earlier taken away was not responsible for their use.
Making a further statement, Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that failure by the United States to take action against Syria after that country had supposedly crossed the “red line” established by President Barack Obama could be construed that the Syrian regime had not used chemical weapons.