Statement at the UNSC Briefing on Syria - Chemical Weapons
Statement07 November 2022
Thank you President and I want to thank High Representative Nakamitsu for your briefing this morning.
President, on September 27, 2013, the Council adopted Resolution 2118. It did so in the wake of the chemical weapon attack in Ghouta that killed and injured more than a thousand Syrian civilians, in the most horrific of circumstances.
I would highlight two key decisions of resolution 2118: First, that Syria shall not use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons. Second, Syria shall cooperate fully with the OPCW and the UN, by accepting personnel designated by the OPCW or the UN, by providing these personnel with immediate and unfettered access to any and all sites. And, in discharging their functions, the right to inspect these. .
The Resolution also expresses the Council’s strong conviction that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria should be held accountable.
Despite the OPCW’s work, with Syria, to destroy all declared chemical weapon stocks, we have, since 2013, seen eight chemical weapon attacks attributed by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, and the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team, to the Syrian authorities. Further attacks remain under investigation by the OPCW, and many more have been reported.
Over the same time, we have seen the issues with Syria’s declarations to the OPCW increase from 5 to 20. These are not mere technical issues, as Syria has argued. These are issues of real concern, from undeclared and mis-declared chemical weapon production facilities, to chemical munitions and chemical warfare agents that are unaccounted for.
President, these issues go to the heart of the question the Council needs to face: that is, whether Syria continues to use, produce or retain chemical weapons.
Regrettably, Syria’s response has been to reduce its cooperation with the OPCW, until it now stands at almost nothing. Syria makes its cooperation with the Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) conditional, dictating the composition of the DAT team, in defiance of Resolution 2118. It is deeply worrying that the last round of consultations with the DAT was as far back as February 2021, despite the Secretariat’s best efforts to push this agenda item forward.
We see Syria continue a similar pattern of non-cooperation in relation to the proposed meeting between DG Arias and Foreign Minister Mekhdad.
At the same time, Syria, with Russia, actively seeks to undermine the OPCW’s authority and independence, to mask Syria’s culpability.
So, let us be clear, the Council must uphold its decisions set out in 2118, by holding Syria to its obligations under that Resolution and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Syria must engage urgently in a serious and meaningful way with the Technical Secretariat to resolve the 20 outstanding issues with its initial declaration.
The Council must uphold the international norm against chemical weapons, including through clear and unequivocal backing for the OPCW in its mandated task.
President , it is Syria’s actions, not its words, that are important to close this file. It is only through Syria’s genuine engagement, that the OPCW will be able to provide the necessary assurance that Syria’s chemical weapons programme is verifiably and definitively a thing of the past.
Until then, this Council cannot simply shrug its shoulders; regular discussion by the Council is needed to show Syria that its lack of cooperation will not go unanswered, and that there can be no impunity for those who would use these illegal and abhorrent weapons.