Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ briefing to the Security Council on Syria, in New York today:
I have been following closely the reports of air strikes in Syria conducted by the United States, France and the United Kingdom.
Last night at [21:00] hours in New York, the United States President [Donald] Trump announced the beginning of air strikes, with participation by France and the United Kingdom, indicating they were targeting the chemical weapons capabilities of the Syrian Government and to deter their future use.
His statement was followed by announcements from Prime Minister [Theresa] May and President [Emmanuel] Macron.
The air strikes were reportedly limited to three military locations inside Syria. The first target included the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre at Al-Mazzah Airport in Damascus; the second, an alleged chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and the third, an alleged chemical weapons equipment storage site and command post, also near Homs.
The Syrian Government announced surface-to-air-missile response activity. Both US and Russian sources indicated there were no civilian casualties. The UN is, however, unable to independently verify the details of all these reports.
As Secretary-General of the United Nations, it is my duty to remind Member States that there is an obligation, particularly when dealing with matters of peace and security, to act consistently with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law in general.
The UN Charter is very clear on these issues. The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. I call on the members of the Security Council to unite and exercise that responsibility.
I urge all Member States to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate matters and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people.
As I did yesterday, I stress the need to avoid the situation from spiralling out of control. Any use of chemical weapons is abhorrent. The suffering it causes is horrendous.
I have repeatedly expressed my deep disappointment that the Security Council failed to agree on a dedicated mechanism for effective accountability for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
I urge the Security Council to assume its responsibilities and fill this gap. I will continue to engage with Member States to help achieve this objective.
A lack of accountability emboldens those who would use such weapons by providing them with the reassurance of impunity. This in turn further weakens the norm proscribing the use of chemical weapons and the international disarmament and non-proliferation architecture as a whole.
The seriousness of the recent allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Douma requires a thorough investigation using impartial, independent and professional expertise.
I reaffirm my full support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — the OPCW — and its fact-finding mission in undertaking the required investigation. The team is already in Syria. I am informed that their operations plan to visit the site is completed and they are ready to go. I am confident that they will have full access, without any restrictions or impediments to perform their activities.
Allow me to repeat what I said yesterday. Syria today represents the most serious threat to international peace and security.
In Syria, we see confrontations and proxy wars involving several national armies, a number of armed opposition groups, many national and international militia, foreign fighters from everywhere in the world and various terrorist organizations.
From the beginning, we have witnessed systematic violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international law tout court — in utter disregard of the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter.
For eight long years, the people of Syria have endured suffering upon suffering. Syrians have lived through a litany of horrors: atrocity crimes, sieges, starvation, indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of chemical weapons, forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, detention and enforced disappearances. The list goes on.
At this critical juncture, I call on all Members to act consistently with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law, including the norms against chemical weapons. If the law is ignored, it is undermined.
There is no military solution to the crisis. The solution must be political. We must find ways to make credible progress towards a genuine and credible political solution that meet the aspirations of the Syrian people to dignity and freedom in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué.
I have asked my Special Envoy to come to New York as soon as possible to consult with me on the most effective way to accelerate the political process.