Briefing Security Council on Syria’s Chemical Weapons Programme, Disarmament Chief Says Violations of International Law Cannot Continue to Go Unaddressed

Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons programme still cannot be considered accurate and complete due to identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved, the United Nations disarmament chief told the Security Council today, as delegates, including from the Russian Federation and the United States, sparred over the fact-finding mission’s report.

Presenting an update on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) regarding the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme (document S/2022/76), Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu stated that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Technical Secretariat is yet to receive the requested declaration from Syria on all undeclared types and quantities of nerve agents produced and/or weaponized at one former chemical weapons production facility that was declared by the Government as never having been used to produce and/or weaponize chemical warfare agents. As a result of the identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved, the OPCW Technical Secretariat continues to assess that, at this stage, the declaration submitted by Syria cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, she said.

Outlining activities planned by the Technical Secretariat, including an in-person meeting between the OPCW Director-General and Syria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, as well as the next round of inspections of the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre in 2022, she said Syria has not yet provided sufficient technical information or explanations that would enable the Secretariat to close the issue related to the detection of a “Schedule 2” chemical at the Barzah facilities of the Research Centre in November 2018.

Turning to the twenty-fifth round of consultations with the Declaration Assessment Team in Damascus, which the OPCW Technical Secretariat has been endeavouring to schedule for almost 10 months, she said the deployment is still not possible due to Syria’s continued refusal to issue an entry visa for one member of the Team, reiterating her request to Syrian authorities to facilitate the necessary arrangements as soon as possible. Only through the country’s complete cooperation with the Technical Secretariat will all outstanding issues related to its initial declaration be closed, she stressed.

On the report issued by the OPCW Technical Secretariat on 24 January, regarding the incidents of the alleged use of chemicals as a weapon in Marea on 1 and 3 September 2015, she stated that it concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that on 1 September 2015, in Marea, a vesicant chemical substance from “Schedule 1.A.04” of the Chemical Weapons Convention was used as a weapon. On the report of the fact-finding mission issued by the Technical Secretariat on 31 January, regarding the incident of the alleged use of chemicals as a weapon in Kafr Zeita on 1 October 2016, she said it concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the chlorine cylinder retrieved from the incident location in Kafr Zeita was used as a weapon.

“Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable and the absence of accountability for the past use of such weapons remains a blight on the conscience of the international community,” she said, adding that “such profound violations of international law cannot continue to go unaddressed and unresolved.”

In the ensuing discussion, the Russian Federation’s representative averred that the conclusions of the fact-finding mission’s report on alleged use of chemical weapons during the incidents that took place in Douma in 2018 were drastically edited with an anti-Syrian bias, as confirmed by different sources, including former inspectors of OPCW. “Put simply, it was a sham,” he said. The products of the Investigation and Identification Team do not hold water because it is technically illiterate and politically biased, he said, expressing concern about its methodology of establishing a chain of events many years after they happened, on the basis of testimonies from vague sources.

In a contrasting address, the representative of the United States highlighted the human tragedy captured in the reports, noting that many witnesses interviewed by OPCW experts were poisoned by direct exposure to chemical weapons while others were exposed while caring for the injured. The Assad regime and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) clearly intended to cause terror by deploying these illegal and immoral weapons throughout the conflict, he said. Moreover, attempts by the Assad regime and its allies to impugn the integrity of OPCW are part of a desperate campaign to distract from the human tragedy, he said, also condemning “the disinformation narratives” of the Russian Federation.

In a similar vein, the United Kingdom’s delegate pointed out that disinformation about chemical weapons is worryingly familiar, coming not only from the Assad regime, but also from its backers on the Council. Noting “fake claims by the Russian Federation about impending chemical weapons attacks in Ukraine”, he said claims of imminent attacks by groups labelled as “terrorists” or “saboteurs” are put forward without any credible evidence, as part of the pretext for an invasion that Moscow told the Council would never happen. Stating that the Russian Federation’s claims about the OPCW Technical Secretariat being biased are not based on plausible evidence, he noted that Moscow’s tactic is designed to deflect attention from those who use chemical weapons, stressing that any use of such weapons, by anyone, is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated.

Meanwhile, the representative of Mexico said both incidents in Marea and Kafr Zeita investigated in the reports by the fact-finding mission are violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention and of international humanitarian law, adding that those responsible must be brought to justice. She went on to underline the importance of ensuring cooperation with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, given the Council’s inability to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Syria’s representative, taking the floor following Council members, said the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs continues to make incomplete statements that provide a one-sided version of recent developments, adding that she ignored Syria’s cooperation with OPCW’s technical teams, as well as important information in his country’s ninetieth monthly report. Stating that Syria is preparing to hold a high-level meeting between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates and the Director-General of the OPCW, he emphasized the need for the Technical Secretariat to respect the principles of professionalism and avoid sharing false or imprecise information, adding that such information is then used by some adversary States to make groundless accusations against his country. Further, Syria’s exercise of its sovereign right to not allow access for one member of the Declaration Assessment Team should not be used as a pretext to postpone the work of the entire group, he said.

Source: UN Security Council

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