15 June 2017
7973rd Meeting (PM)

Disarmament Chief Urges Security Council Members to Avoid Politicizing Investigations of Chemical Weapons in Syria

Although some progress had been made in the ongoing investigations of chemical weapon use in Syria, Security Council members must avoid politicizing the issue, the United Nations disarmament chief urged the 15-nation body as she briefed them on the matter today.

“The continuing use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only horrific in its own right, but also profoundly damaging to the international community’s confidence in its non-proliferation architecture,” said Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, who cited the Secretary-General’s latest letter to the Council containing the forty-fourth monthly report of the Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) (document S/2017/469).

“This is to the detriment of us all,” she continued.  “We have collectively worked to create regimes for disarmament and non-proliferation in order that our security will be enhanced.  If we collectively permit the erosion of those regimes, so too will our security be avoided.”

Providing updates on the fact-finding mission in Syria, she said investigations were continuing into the allegations of chemical weapon use in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April.  As well, planning continued for a site visit, which depended on the most stringent security assurances for the team.

She also provided an update on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) on the elimination of Syria’s declared chemical weapons programme, noting her discussions with the OPCW Director General, the head of Syria’s mission to the United Nations and most Security Council members.

Some progress had been made, she said, emphasizing that, while the prevailing security situation had prevented access to two declared chemical weapons production facilities, the remaining aircraft hangar had been destroyed on 6 June.  In addition, plans were being discussed to hold a fourth round of high-level consultations on Syria’s declaration and subsequent amendments.

She then turned to the OPCW decision to conduct inspections at the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre, the first of which had been carried out from 26 February to 5 March, with sample analysis indicating the absence of unscheduled chemicals.  A second inspection was now being planned.

She said the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism had begun an in-depth investigation on the incident in Um-Housh on 16 September 2016 (document S/2017/400).  She reminded the Council that the OPCW report had concluded that blood sample analyses of two female casualties reportedly involved in the alleged attack had indicated exposure to sulfur mustard, as did a munition that had also been reported to be connected to the incident.

In addition, she said, the Joint Investigative Mechanism was preliminarily assessing the fact-finding mission’s status update report and other available material on allegations of chemical weapon use at Khan Shaykhun.  Its leadership panel, which was now complete with the appointment of Judy Cheng-Hopkins (Malaysia), expected to make a decision on conducting an in-depth investigation into that incident upon receipt of the final fact-finding mission report.

“We cannot go backwards,” she said, emphasizing that the 1925 Geneva Protocol had banned chemical weapons nearly a century ago and that Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction had reiterated that call.  “Such use remains wholly indefensible and is a threat to international peace and security,” she said.  “Those responsible must be held accountable.”

Following the briefing, Cristina Carrión (Uruguay), condemning the use of toxic weapons in the Syrian conflict, encouraged the Syrian authorities to cooperate with OPCW.  Noting that Council consultations on the issue would begin shortly, she called for consensus that would enable Council members to overcome their differences.  In the coming months, she added, the Joint Investigative Mechanism would have to identify those responsible so that the Council could take action that had been delayed far too often.  It was crucial for all Council members to overcome their political differences on Syria, thus giving new hopes to victims of that conflict and bringing those responsible to justice.

At the outset of the meeting, Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, expressing his condolences, as well as solidarity with the people and Government of Afghanistan, following an attack that took place in Kabul today.

The meeting began at 4:06 p.m. and ended at 4:22 p.m.

For information media. Not an official record.