Amid reports of a chemical weapons attack carried out in eastern Ghouta in Syria on 22 January, the Security Council met today to condemn the continued use of those weapons, and urged unity in order to look towards the creation of a new, depoliticized structure to replace the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism.
The Russian Federation’s delegate said the Mechanism had caused the investigation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria to collapse. It had become a political tool, he said, noting that unfounded allegations had been made against his country by the United States, which had accused it of hampering investigations. Noting that the veracity of the chemical weapon attack in Ghouta had not been confirmed, he said that its occurrence had for some reason converged with the meeting in Paris on chemical weapons and the upcoming dialogue in Sochi, Russian Federation. He urged the Council to consider the draft resolution created by his delegation along with other like-minded parties, and said that his country was ready to engage in consultations on the matter.
The representative of the United States said that the Russian Federation had put forward its proposal as a distraction from the new initiative by France, the international partnership against impunity for chemical weapons. The Russian Federation, meanwhile, had used its veto in the Council to kill the Mechanism. That country had opposed the Mechanism because it collected facts, and now it questioned the French effort to collect facts, she said. Following the report that the Bashar al-Assad regime had used chlorine gas against its own people, she noted that the attack had taken place in the same place that the regime had been trying to take back.
France’s delegate highlighted that 24 States had responded to his country’s proposal for a new international partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons. That partnership would support the existing architecture with a new operational instrument, one that would contribute to international justice, he said. There could be no justice or lasting peace in Syria without an end to impunity, and it would be through a United Nations framework that a political solution for Syria could move ahead.
The representative of Bolivia condemned the alleged use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta, and also insisted on the need for a mechanism that would carry out the task of investigating such attacks in a transparent manner. That mechanism must be depoliticized, he underscored, noting that, while Council members had claimed to have had an independent mechanism, it had also had the challenge of not exploiting the 15-member organ and using it as a ground for geopolitical interests.
Equatorial Guinea’s delegate said that the Council needed to deal with the issue of chemical weapons with a spirit of understanding and unity, so that it could send a message that those using such arms would be held accountable. Noting the lack of such unity, he said that the proposal put forward by the Russian Federation was worthy of consideration, as it would create a new opportunity to create a fully transparent investigation.
The representative of Kazakhstan, Council President for January, speaking in his national capacity, noted the 15-member organ must urgently consider the development of a new investigative tool. He underscored that any delays would only result in the perpetration of further chemical weapons use. Welcoming the proposal of the Russian Federation to create a new mechanism, he emphasized that the Council should try to get it right from the beginning. It should be impartial and with a clear mandate, to remove any doubts, he said, underscoring that he did not mean that the previous mechanism was unfit for purpose.
The representatives of the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, Peru, China, Kuwait and Côte d'Ivoire also spoke today.
The meeting started at 3:06 p.m. and ended at 4:09 p.m.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that his delegation had requested an open Security Council meeting because the issue was too important to be discussed in closed consultations. On 22 January, many in the Council touched upon the issue of the establishment of a new structure to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria to supplant the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism. That call could not be met. His country had underscored the importance of the most serious approach to the matter of the production and use of chemical weapons, and he was troubled by the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East that was not limited to Syrian territory. Unfortunately, the Joint Investigative Mechanism had caused the investigation to collapse. Investigation from a scientific point of view was a complete failure and had become a political tool instead. Unfounded allegations against the Russian Federation by the United States had said that his country was hampering investigations into chemical weapons use in Syria.
He noted that OPCW specialists had visited Syria to familiarize themselves with the chemical weapon storage sites left by militants. The United States and United Kingdom had, without any shame or evidence, hastily accused the Syrian “regime”, as they called it. They were now attempting to drag his country into that, as well. United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had built his statement in Paris today around an incident that allegedly occurred on 22 January in eastern Ghouta. The alleged episode, the veracity of which had not been confirmed, had for some reason converged with the meeting in Paris and the upcoming dialogue in Sochi, Russian Federation. In November 2017, the Russian Federation, with like-minded parties, had drafted a resolution that would ensure that the Mechanism would be aligned with the high standards of OPCW. The draft resolution had been sent to the Secretariat to circulate, and he stood ready to engage in substantive consultations.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said that the Russian Federation had convened the Council with no notice and put forward a proposal to distract from a new initiative by France. The Russian Federation was running from the facts, and it had the audacity to lecture the Council on how to stop the use of chemical weapons. In the past year, it had used its veto to kill the Mechanism in Syria. Earlier in the week, there had been another report that the Bashar al-Assad regime had used chlorine gas against its own people. It happened in the exact same place that the regime was trying to take back militarily. The Russian Federation was complicit in the regime’s atrocities. A new initiative had been introduced in Paris, the international partnership against impunity for chemical weapons. She strongly supported that effort, and said that 25 countries had come together to share information on chemical weapons and to ensure that perpetrators would be held accountable. The Russian Federation had opposed the mechanism because it collected facts, and now it questioned the French effort to collect facts. When investigators found Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) to be responsible, the Russian Federation was fine with that account, but not when the Syrian regime was found responsible. She would not accept any proposal from the Russian Federation that undermined the effort to get to the truth.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the Council was meeting in the wake of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, that claimed more than 20 victims, including women and children. Noting that 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, during which chemical weapons were produced for the first time in industrial quantities, he recalled previous chemical weapons incidents in Syria, adding that since 2013, investigations had revealed more than 100 allegations of such weapons, mostly in Syria, but also in Iraq and Malaysia. The use of those weapons destabilized entire regions, undermined the entire non-proliferation regime and increased the risk of their use by terrorists. “It is our duty to act,” he said, adding that those who hampered efforts to combat impunity were de facto establishing impunity for those who carried out chemical weapons attacks.
Twenty-four States had responded to France’s proposal for a new international partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons, he said, thus reaffirming a willingness to act together through an exchange of information, the adoption of national and international sanctions, the strengthening of States’ capacity to enforce those sanctions and the publication of a unique list of persons implicated in chemical weapons attacks. That partnership would not substitute international instruments or investigative mechanisms put in place by the United Nations or OPCW. Rather, it would support the existing architecture with a new operational instrument, contributing to investigations and international justice. It was neither an anti-Syrian instrument nor an exclusive club, and any country could join by subscribing to its declaration of principles. Concluding, he said there could be no justice or lasting peace in Syria without an end to impunity, and that it would be in Vienna and Geneva, through a United Nations framework, that a political solution for Syria could move forward.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said his delegation remained concerned by ongoing reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, including the recent heinous attack on civilians in Douma. The Russian Federation had claimed to act as a guarantor, but when the Assad regime ignored its obligations, Russia abused its power of veto to protect it. The Russian Federation’s latest proposal was an attempt to shift attention to non-State actors. That country had great influence on the Assad regime and it should persuade its Syrian friends to get rid of their chemical weapons, he said. The United Kingdom also condemned ISIL/Da’esh for the use of chemical weapons, which was another reason to defeat that group, and it was proud to join the international partnership. A mechanism to ensure accountability must be established, he said, adding however that Council members knew where the obstacle lied.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said accountability for chemical weapons use in Syria was neither optional nor negotiable. The Netherlands would use its Council membership to bring accountability to the forefront. The 15-member organ should assume its responsibility and the Russian Federation in particular should use its influence on the Syrian regime to refrain from further chemical weapons attacks. If the Council remained deadlocked, the Netherlands would look for complementary measures, he said, thanking France for its initiative to set up an international partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons. He added that referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court remained “by far” the best option to achieve accountability for the most serious crimes that had occurred in that country.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that allegations of the use of chemical weapons continued to be reported, and their use was a serious violation of international law. Bringing the perpetrators to justice remained a high priority, which was why Sweden had participated in the meeting in Paris. As a member of the Council and the OPCW Executive Council, his country attached all importance to efforts to combat the use of chemical weapons. It was highly regrettable that the Council had not been able to agree upon the extension of the Mechanism, and it was essential to create a mechanism now. The Council needed to be forward looking and overcome its differences, and that should be possible if everyone engaged in good faith. Sweden stood ready to engage in such efforts.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said she was concerned about the reported use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta, as it stood in clear violation of international law. Its perpetrators needed to be held accountable for their actions. She supported all measures that needed to be taken to fill in the gap left by the Mechanism, to ensure no one was left unpunished when using chemical weapons. She supported the tireless work of OPCW and was convinced that it was the responsibility of the Council to establish and maintain a suitable mechanism to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons. She thanked France for hosting the high-level initiative to protect the core values of the non‑proliferation of chemical weapons. All tools at their disposal should be used to promote and complement existing standards against the use of chemical weapons.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) underscored his country’s participation in the 22 January conference in Paris aimed at combating impunity vis-à-vis the use of chemical weapons. Peru most firmly condemned the lack of accountability in ongoing incidents involving the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which undermined the international non-proliferation regime, as well as prospects for peace.
SHEN BO (China) said his country opposed the use of chemical weapons by any country, organization or person, and supported a comprehensive and fair investigation that would stand the test of history. China welcomed the draft resolution distributed by the Russian Federation and would give it serious consideration. It was imperative to set up a new investigative mechanism and China hoped all Council members would participate constructively in consultations. He went on to underscore the need to maintain Council unity and to coordinate with relevant parties to promote the political process in Syria.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) reiterated his condemnation of the use of chemical weapons, which was an unjustifiable and criminal act. He condemned the alleged use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta. That incident should be investigated to see who was responsible, and they should be held to account. He reiterated his support for the work carried out by OPCW. However, he insisted on the urgent need to have a mechanism that could carry out the task of investigating in a transparent and technical manner. That mechanism must be depoliticized. He believed that while Council members had claimed to have had an independent mechanism, it also had the challenge of not exploiting the 15-member organ as a ground for geopolitical interests.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that the ongoing use of chemical weapons in Syria represented one of the gloomy pictures of the ongoing crisis. It became gloomier without justice and there was impunity for every criminal who had participated in such crimes against civilians. The Council had heard from Under‑Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman about the latest attack. However, it was unable to reach consensus on the renewal of the Mechanism, which his country believed had carried out its work in an impartial manner. Without the Mechanism, there was no tool for accountability in Syria.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) said his country, which vehemently opposed chemical weapons, fully supported the initiative by France. At the same time, it lauded the Russian Federation’s initiative to establish a new mechanism, tasked — like the previous one — with identifying perpetrators. Lack of action by the Council would send the wrong message to those who felt free to use chemical weapons with impunity, he said, calling upon the 15-member organ to act in a consensus-based and coordinated manner.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), strongly condemning recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria, said the Council must deal with the chemical weapons issue in a spirit of understanding and unity to fight impunity and to send a message that those using such weapons would be held accountable. Given the lack of Council unity, and need to identify those responsible for using chemical weapons, the proposal just put forward by the Russian Federation deserved consideration, he said, adding that it would create a new opportunity to ensure a fully transparent investigation.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), Council President for January, speaking in national capacity, said that it was regrettable that illegal and inhumane weapons were used to intimate common people. The Council must urgently start thinking about developing a new investigative tool. Any delays and inaction by it could lead to an increase in the perpetrating of such acts. He welcomed the proposal of the Russian Federation to establish a new mechanism. As the Council had to start anew in that regard, it must try to get it right from the beginning. It should be impartial, depoliticized, with a clear mandate to remove any doubts, noting that he did not mean that the previous mechanism was unfit for purpose. His country was ready to contribute in finding the best way to move forward together.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that he wanted to clarify further his position. He noted that everything in the statement of the United States was about the Russian Federation. The United States was not only betraying the truth, but it was also betraying itself. The allegations that had not been confirmed about chemical weapon use in eastern Ghouta did not accidently emerge on the eve of the meeting in Vienna and the dialogue in Sochi. The Council needed to surmount its differences, delve into dialogue and attempt to reunite the 15-member organ. The Council’s unity must be rebuilt.