The senior United Nations disarmament official urged the Security Council to unite and ensure that the use of chemical weapons shall never be tolerated, as she briefed the 15-member body on Feb. 3 on efforts by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to verify the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities.
Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hamper the ability of OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team — tasked with identifying the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Syria — to deploy in that country.
“I say this every month because it bears consistent repeating: There is an urgent need to not only identify but hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons in violation of international law”Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
She also urged Syria to fully cooperate with the OPCW Technical Secretariat to address 19 issues still outstanding from its initial declaration on its chemical weapons programme, submitted to OPCW in The Hague in 2013. One of those issues is at the heart of a request by the OPCW Technical Secretariat for details about chemical agents produced or weaponized at a facility which, according to Damascus, has never been used for chemical weapons.
“Without such action, we are allowing the use of chemical weapons to take place with impunity. It is imperative that this Council show leadership in demonstrating that impunity in the use of these weapons will not be tolerated,” she said, adding that the Secretary-General, in his address to Member States on 28 January, had underscored the need for Council unity to address today’s roiling threats to peace and security.
She urged Damascus to cooperate fully with the OPCW Technical Secretariat, which stands by its assessment that — due to unresolved gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies — Syria’s initial declaration cannot be considered accurate and complete, as it is required to be under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction.
She added, as she has said in the past, that international confidence in the full elimination of Syria’s weapons programme hinges upon OPCW being able to resolve the outstanding issues. “I hope that during the next round of consultations between the [OPCW] Declaration Assessment Team and the Syrian National Authority, to be held later this month, further progress will be made to resolve these issues,” she added.
The representative of the United States said any use of chemical weapons is a clear thereat to international peace and security, and his country is committed to holding perpetrators to account. The Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons against Syria’s people, seeking to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and undermining the work of OPCW. Its allies, including the Russian Federation, have sought to block all efforts to promote accountability, shielding it from responsibility, notably by spreading disinformation, attacking OPCW and seeking to undermine efforts by responsible nations to hold the Assad regime accountable. He hailed OPCW leadership, its Technical Secretariat and its professionalism in carrying out its mandate, and said the United States looks forward to the future reports of the Investigation and Identification Team.
Noting that the Team’s first report, in April 2020, concluded that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, he said the decision by OPCW in July 2020 requested that Syria take steps to redress the situation. But Damascus has failed to complete any measures outlined in that decision, as communicated by the OPCW Director General in October 2020. Recalling that the United States, along with 45 co-sponsors, submitted a draft decision to the OPCW Conference of the States Parties in response, he called on the Conference to take appropriate action when it reconvenes this spring so as to send a strong message to the Syrian regime.
The Security Council likewise must ensure there are serious consequences for Syria’s use of chemical weapons, he said, recalling it had decided that the regime must cooperate fully with OPCW and the United Nations, efforts which the United States supports. “Accountability is needed to bring long-overdue justice to the victims,” he stressed, as is a broader political process, as called for in resolution 2254 (2015). The Assad regime must uphold its Convention obligations, while the Council must call out atrocities and hold those who use chemical weapons accountable.
The representative of the United Kingdom, Council president for February, underlined in her national capacity that, despite decisions by OCPW and the Security Council, Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons programme cannot be considered complete. She called the 19 unresolved issues “substantive” and “serious” in nature, among them, issues pertaining to a production facility which Syria claims has never been used. However, a review of all information and materials collected by the Declaration Assessment Team indicates the production of chemical nerve agents did take place there. That four outstanding issues have been closed demonstrates that such questions can be concluded if Damascus chooses to engage. She pressed Syria to provide complete access to documents and witnesses, stressing that the “cat-and-mouse game” of explanations and excuses cannot continue. Noting the Declaration Assessment Team’s intention to deploy for consultations in February, she outlined the United Kingdom’s expectation that Syria provide full responses during those meetings.
The representative of Syria said that his country no longer has any chemical weapons, as the Head of the Joint Investigative Mission told the Council in June 2014. However, some Western countries, denying that reality, continue to use the chemical weapons issue as a weapon of war and blackmail. For its part, OPCW is forced to produce reports — based on conjecture and information from terrorist groups such as the White Helmets — which fail to meet even the basic criteria for objectivity. He added that OPCW and the High Representative for Disarmament are trying to serve the Western agenda by denying information provided by the Governments of Syria and the Russian Federation. Despite the hostile Western approach, Damascus is continuing to cooperate with OPCW and its Technical Secretariat, he said, adding that discussions on an OPCW visit took place last week, although no agreement was finalized.
He emphasized that Damascus rejects any attempt to undermine its initial declaration to OPCW or its efforts to cooperate with that organization. A draft resolution before the Conference of the Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, if adopted, would represent “a hostile act par excellence” by levelling false accusations against the Government of Syria while exonerating terrorists and their co-sponsors for the use of chemical weapons, he said. Such a text would also lay the groundwork for hostile unilateral or trilateral acts not unlike the United States attack on the Shayrat airfield in April 2017. He went on to say that Western Governments have seized upon the chemical weapons issues to provide cover for Israel’s development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The representative of Turkey said that of the 19 outstanding issues, one requires urgent attention, and that the Syrian regime must be forced to declare the types and quantities of chemical weapons produced at a facility which Syria says was never used for such a purpose. Underscoring the importance of Council unity, he said that his country is a co-sponsor of a draft resolution before the Conference of the Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention on the Syrian chemical weapons dossier. Going forward, investigations by the fact-finding mission and the Investigation and Identification Team must continue, he said, adding that the Syrian regime’s denial of visas to members of the latter is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. He concluded by saying that ending impunity is indispensable for peace in Syria and that those with influence on the regime bear a special responsibility.