Despite Progress Dismantling Syria’s Chemical Weapons Facilities, Accountability Gaps Persist, Senior Disarmament Official Tells Security Council

SC/13489
6 September 2018
8344th Meeting (PM)

Despite Progress Dismantling Syria’s Chemical Weapons Facilities, Accountability Gaps Persist, Senior Disarmament Official Tells Security Council

Despite progress being made, not only was the international community’s confidence in Syria’s full elimination of its chemical weapons programme dependent upon the United Nations being able to close outstanding issues, but the lack of an accountability mechanism was a missing step in taking to task those responsible for using chemical weapons, a senior United Nations disarmament official told the Security Council today.

Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefing the Council on the implementation of resolution 2118 (2013) on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, expressed concern that the closure of the United Nations‑Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Joint Investigative Mechanism would embolden those who sought to carry out further attacks.  The Council must work together to find a common approach to tackle this issue, she stressed.

Also noting that the Technical Secretariat of OPCW had verified the destruction of all 27 chemical weapons production facilities declared by Syria, she added that the confidence of the international community in the full elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme depended upon closing outstanding issues.  OPCW’s fact-finding mission continued to collect and analyse information regarding the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in Douma.

The complete implementation of resolution 2118 (2013) was essential for ending the Syrian conflict, as well as for ensuring regional stability, she pointed out, calling on the international community to uphold humanitarian principles, as well as all relevant international disarmament and non‑proliferation norms, most importantly the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.

In the ensuing vigorous debate, many members called on the Syrian Government to cooperate fully with OPCW.  Peru’s representative reaffirmed his trust in the fairness and impartiality of OPCW’s work and lamented that the advances made by that body are overshadowed by the persistence of errors and omissions in the declaration by Syria, five years after its adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention.  He voiced his hope that the existing discrepancies would be clarified by the recent documentation provided by the Syrian Government.

Highlighting the threat of a military offensive in Idlib, France’s delegate noted that the possible use of chemical weapons there would open a “new chapter in the long story of the Syrian tragedy”.  Since 2013, the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons and hundreds of civilians in Douma were paying the price.  That use indicated that there are still stockpiles.  A new use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime will not go unpunished, he cautioned.

“Damascus does not have chemical weapons, nor do they have plans to use it,” the Russian Federation’s representative stressed, adding that OPCW and The Hague had confirmed the destruction of the last chemical weapon production facilities declared by Syria.  Yet, a major international deception still persisted, along the same lines as the Iraq weapons of mass destruction, he noted.

“There are no more chemical weapons in Syria,” that country’s delegate declared, as well.  He reminded the Council that that the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs had hailed the destruction of 27 chemical weapons production facilities and the signing of the Tripartite Agreement.  “It seems that some colleagues didn’t listen carefully to that briefing,” he noted.  With the destruction of the two last chemical weapons facilities, Syria had lived up to all its obligations.

Still, certain permanent members continue to exploit the Council to pursue their own political ends, he said, adding that “we are diplomats” and the role of diplomats is to find diplomatic solutions, not issue threats.  Calling on the Security Council to learn from mistakes made in Iraq and Libya, he pointed out that the Syrian Government was winning their fight against terrorist organizations.  Why would Syria use chemical weapons against women and children but not against terrorists, he asked.

Regardless of delegations’ positions on the matter, progress was being made, the representative of the Côte d’Ivoire underscored, both with the destruction of the 27 units and the cooperation between the Syrian Government and OPCW.

As well, Poland’s delegate voiced hope for continued progress.  She reminded the Chamber that the establishment of the Joint Investigative Mechanism has proved that when the Council stands united around the common goal of countering weapons of mass destruction, it can work efficiently.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Bolivia, Kuwait, United Kingdom, China, Netherlands, Sweden and the United States.

The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 4:43 p.m.

Briefing

IZUMI NAKAMITSU, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, updating the Council on the implementation of resolution 2118 (2013) on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, said that the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had verified the destruction of all 27 chemical weapons production facilities declared by that country.  Further, the Declaration Assessment Team is continuing to analyse the answers provided by the Syrian Government to questions regarding chemical‑weapons‑related activities conducted at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre.

The confidence of the international community in the full elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme depended upon the United Nations being able to close outstanding issues, she said.  In that regard, the complete implementation of resolution 2118 (2013) was critical not only for finding a long‑overdue end to the ongoing conflict in Syria, but also for the stability in the region.  The renewal of the Tripartite Agreement between the Syrian Government, OPCW and the United Nations Office for Project Services would allow OPCW to continue its activities in Syria using the same logistics procedures and support as before. Turning to the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in Douma, she said that OPCW’s fact-finding mission continued to collect and analyse information and would provide a final report on its findings in due course.

However, the lack of a mechanism to attribute responsibility to those who used chemical weapons had been deeply troubling and a missing step in the path towards accountability, she noted.  The closure of the United Nations-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism — mandated to identify the perpetrators of such acts — emboldened those who sought to carry out further attacks.  Anyone who uses chemical weapons must be identified and must be held to account, she stressed.  Reiterating the Secretary-General’s calls for the Council to work together to find a common approach to tackle this issue, she said that the use of any toxic chemical, such as chlorine, as a weapon is totally unacceptable by any party under any circumstance.  Humanitarian principles as well as all relevant international disarmament and non‑proliferation norms, most importantly the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction — known as the Chemical Weapons Convention — must be fully respected.

Statements

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), underlining the need for a thorough investigation of incidents related to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, said the fact-finding mission reports do not provide the necessarily clarity and objectivity — creating more disagreements among Council members.  Calling for the prompt identification and prosecution of all those responsible for chemical weapons crimes, he nevertheless stressed that “the involvement of the party must be proved by full, comprehensive and irrefutable evidence”.  The issues of attribution and prosecution have long remained stumbling blocks in the Council’s work, preventing it from finding effective solutions.  Emphasizing that a political settlement of the Syrian crisis and the fight against chemical weapons are closely interrelated, he warned against allowing the use of the latter to undermine political achievements or set back Syria’s long-awaited peace.  Thus, he voiced his continuing concern about the lack of clarity about ongoing investigations of chemical incidents, as well as about impunity and the absence of preventive measures.  “We should not allow politicization and polarization in this serious matter, on which the fate of many depends,” he said.

FRANCISCO TENYA HASEGAWA (Peru), condemning any use of chemical weapons, which is a threat to international peace and security, expressed concern that those weapons had been used in Syria.  Awaiting the outcome of investigations into allegations of the use of these weapons, he also stated his full trust in the fairness and impartiality of OPCW’s work.  These advances are continually overshadowed by the persistence of errors and omissions in the declaration by Syria, five years after its adherence to the Convention for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  He said he hoped that the recent documentation provided by the Syrian Government, which is in the process of being evaluated by OPCW, will finally make it possible to clarify the existing discrepancies.  Peru’s support is guided by international law to protect civilians.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) pointed out that the meeting was taking place at the same time as a threat of a military offensive in Idlib, including a possible use of chemical weapons.  The use of chemical weapons could bring a humanitarian disaster, with half of the 3 million people who live there already displaced.  It will open a “new chapter in the long story of the Syrian tragedy”, he stated, underscoring that if prohibited weapons are used, it is the civilians that suffer.  Collective efforts must centre on the maintenance of a ceasefire agreement.  Iran and the Russian Federation must ensure this is maintained as the Syrian regime cannot act alone.  A new use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime will not go unpunished.  Since 2013, the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons.  Hundreds of civilians in Douma paid the price.  This indicates that there are still stockpiles.  The upcoming meeting of the Astana Group should seek to maintain a ceasefire and avoid escalation.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) expressed hope that communication will continue between OPCW and Syria so that all existing gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies are clarified.  “For almost five years, the Security Council and the international community have been unable to mitigate the threat posed by chemical weapons in [Syria],” she said, adding that the 15-member organ is nevertheless capable of doing so.  The establishment of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, for example, has proved that, when the Council stands united around the common goal of countering weapons of mass destruction, it can work efficiently.  Condemning the use of chemical weapons anywhere, including in Syria, she said those responsible for such attacks must be held accountable in order to preserve the integrity of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the tenor of the current discussion was not in line with reality but with the consistent anti-Damascus stance taken by the Western Powers.  OPCW and The Hague had confirmed that the last chemical weapon production facilities declared by Syria were destroyed.  In addition, many of the gaps and inconsistencies in the Syrian declaration had been fully clarified while the remaining ones were impossible to clarify any more.  The Government of Syria had been regularly providing information to OPCW and there was no foundation for the talk about Damascus allegedly saving some toxic chemicals.  There was a major international deception here, along the same lines as the Iraq weapons of mass destruction, with “the pretend rescuers of the White Helmets” providing staging services.  Further, the supposed intention of Syria to use chemical weapons in Idlib was being taken as a fact, which he noted reminded him of the way the plot in Agatha Christie’s detective novel A Murder is Announced unfolded.  “Damascus does not have chemical weapons, nor do they have plans to use it,” he stated, also expressing the hope that the new director of OPCW would bring its work back to normal pathways.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said his delegation’s position is well known, condemning strongly any use of chemical weapons by any actor — State or non‑State ‑ and under any circumstance.  Their use is a threat to international peace and security and endangers the global non-proliferation system.  Those who use chemical weapons must be identified based on robust evidence and be held accountable.  The unity of the Council is vital to do so.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) welcomed the definitive destruction of 27 declared chemical weapons facilities.  OPCW is taking steps to verify this which represents a major step forward.  The United Nations must ensure safety of OPCW staff accessing to the investigation sites.  In Idlib, the parties should not lose sight in the ongoing charge to gain control of the area.  The use of chemical weapons shall not be tolerated, and the Council and OPCW are the main bodies to ensure that such armaments are not used.  Unity among Council members is required, and the international community must work towards a political solution.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDAN (Bolivia) stressed the importance of complete and verified destruction of all declared chemical weapons facilities.  It is essential that OPCW can conduct on-site visits to investigate any use of chemical weapons, whether it is in Syria or elsewhere.  His delegation supports the fact-finding mission in continuing its work.  Regarding an allegation of the use of chemical weapons in Douma, on-site visit is necessary to confirm or deny the use of those armaments.  He stressed the importance of inclusive dialogue led by Syrians under the United Nations-led Geneva process.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), welcoming the destruction of chemical weapons facilities in Syria, said that is a valuable step in the implementation of resolution 2118 (2013).  There remained discrepancies in the chemical programme declared by Damascus and he hoped that those discrepancies could be resolved.  Calling on the Syrian authorities to fully cooperate with OPCW, he highlighted the lack of a mechanism to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he added that OPCW must make necessary arrangements for taking on this responsibility.  Condemning the use of chemical weapons anywhere by any party, he also expressed concern that the same crimes will be repeated, this time in Idlib.

DESIRE WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), commending the destruction of 27 units of chemical weapons production facilities, praised OPCW’s actions and congratulated the Syria Government for their cooperation in that.  That Government’s response to the questions of the fact-finding mission represented another positive step.  Applauding the new powers given to OPCW, he welcomed the publication of the interim report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma.  Further, he called on all parties to the conflict in Syria to choose the path of dialogue and negotiation.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), voicing alarm over the escalating military action in Idlib, said that she was seriously concerned that the Syrian regime’s further illegal use of chemical weapons there would be used to gain control of the city.  Such use constitutes a threat to international peace and security.  OPCW is still unable to verify allegations made by the fact-finding mission.  These outstanding issues must be resolved if a State to the Chemical Weapons Convention is to act in good faith.  The first duty of a State is to protect its people.  It is unconscionable that any Government could think of using chemical weapons on its own people.  Her Government rejects what her Russian counterpart said about her country, France and the United States.  These allies are ready to swiftly respond to any new use of chemical weapons, she said, urging the Russian Federation to use its influence to avoid such a situation.

MA ZHAOXU (China) welcomed the report that all 27 declared facilities had been destroyed and expressed concern that recent reports hinted at the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  China condemns any use of chemical weapons.  All allegations must go through a thorough investigation.  The outcome should not be predetermined.  Syria’s sovereignty and territory integrity must be respected.  Unity within the Council is essential to advance the political process for Syria.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said that the guarantors of the Idlib de-escalation zone and the Syrian authorities need to make a serious effort to work towards a peaceful, non-violent negotiated solution for the Governate.  He stressed that any measure to counter terrorism must comply with obligations under international and human rights law.  Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.  It is prohibited by international law and could have devastating human and humanitarian consequences.  He also condemned the recent trend of spreading deliberate disinformation on chemical weapons attacks to create confusion.  The Council must focus on common ground by condemning the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone.  He also reiterated the importance of the outcome of the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, where an overwhelming majority of Member States reconfirmed and strengthened the standard against the use of such arms.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that chemical weapons have been used repeatedly in Syria.  “It is a serious violation of international law and it constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” he emphasized.  Impunity is not an option.   All remaining chemical weapons must be declared and destroyed, he continued, urging Syrian authorities to cooperate fully and actively with OPCW so that the accuracy and completeness of its declaration can ultimately be verified.  Sweden looked forward to the upcoming reports regarding several pending investigations, including the final report on the alleged attack in Douma.  He further warned that a full‑scale military offensive in Idlib will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.  “There is nowhere to flee,” he said, urging all parties to abide by the de-escalation agreement.  “We must ensure that Idlib will not become the next Aleppo or Eastern Ghouta,” he added.  It is vital that the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran find a way during their 7 September meeting to avoid further escalation.

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States), Council President for the month of September, speaking in her national capacity, stressed that it is a matter of deep shame that Council members have fought to shield the Assad regime from accountability.  The Assad regime was planning an offensive on Idlib, and it was up to the Russian Federation to keep that from happening.  There were also signs that the Assad regime was planning to use chemical weapons, and it was clear that they still believed they could use these horrific weapons with impunity.  “No one is fooled,” she said, adding that, according to her Government’s conservative estimates, the Syrian Government had killed 1500 men, women and children of its own people with chemical weapons.  The Syrian and Russian lies do not exonerate them, she emphasized, adding that the United States will not stop pushing back on those fabrications.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), stressing that “there are no more chemical weapons in Syria”, said that the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs had hailed the destruction of 27 chemical weapons production facilities in Syria and the signature of the Tripartite Agreement.  “It seems that some colleagues didn’t listen carefully to that briefing,” he said, adding that the threats being wielded would have no impact.  “We are diplomats,” and the role of diplomats is to find diplomatic solutions, not issue threats.  The Security Council is not a battleground and it must learn from mistakes made in Iraq and Libya.

Certain permanent members are exploiting the Council to pursue their own political ends, while Syria and its allies are engaged in a ferocious battle against terrorist organizations, he continued.  “We are winning that war,” he said, adding that the Syrian Government did not need to use the prohibited chemical weapons to stamp out terrorists.  The war is in Syria and not in New York or London.  Why would Syria use chemical weapons against women and children, but not against terrorists, he asked, stressing that, with the destruction of the two last chemical weapons facilities, Syria had lived up to all its obligations.

For information media. Not an official record.