Much work remains for Syria to fully meet chemical weapons convention obligations, disarmament official tells Security Council as members urge greater transparency.
Rejecting Claims of Non-Compliance, Damascus Representative Says Weapons’ Experts Distorting Facts to Match Narrative of United States, Western Allies
Nearly eight years after its adoption, much work remains to be done before Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) on Syria’s chemical weapons programme can be considered fully implemented, a senior United Nations disarmament official told the 15-member organ today during its monthly meeting on that issue.
Thomas Markram, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, also said that the international community must stay focused on preventing the use — or threat of use — of chemical weapons, as he presented the ninety-fourth monthly report of the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) submitted pursuant to resolution 2118 (2013).
“Unity in the Security Council is required to re-establish the norm against chemical weapons,” he emphasized. “The use of these weapons must always be seen as a clear violation of a deeply held taboo. Accordingly, the identification and accountability of those responsible is imperative.”
Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic and visa concerns are hampering the return of OPCW experts to Syria, he said that due to identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies, the OPCW Technical Secretariat maintains that Syria’s declaration regarding the elimination of its chemical weapons programme still cannot be considered accurate or complete. Syria must, therefore, extend its full cooperation to resolve all outstanding issues and reassure the international community that it truly can no longer manufacture and use chemical weapons, he said.
Touching upon the most recent developments, he said that the Technical Secretariat stands ready to initiate preparations for an in-person meeting between OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias and Syria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Faisal Mekdad, to discuss the way forward. He also reviewed the case of two chlorine cylinders which Syria reported as having been destroyed during an attack on 8 July on a military facility 60 kilometres away from where the containers — related to a chemical weapon incident in Douma on 7 April 2018 — were supposed to be. In a note verbale on 15 July, the OPCW requested all relevant information about the movement of the two cylinders and any remains of their destruction.
In the ensuing debate, several Council members, noting how little progress is being made on the Syrian chemical weapons dossier, called upon Damascus to demonstrate greater transparency. They reiterated their call for the complete elimination of chemical weapons, voiced support for the OPCW’s work and echoed concerns about the fate of the two chlorine cylinders.
The United Kingdom’s representative said that Syria has repeatedly breached its international obligations. “Unfortunately, the Director-General’s monthly report provides further ongoing evidence of non-compliance,” she said, describing as unacceptable evidence that Syria moved the two cylinders while the OPCW was preparing to transport them to The Hague for further investigation.
Norway’s delegate, in the same vein, echoed the OPCW’s request for Syria to provide all relevant information regarding the movement, and any remains, of the two chlorine cylinders. “We cannot continue to allow the international norm against the use of chemical weapons to erode,” he said.
The Russian Federation’s representative said it was odd, to say the least, that the Director-General’s report focused more on the cylinders than on the 8 July air strike on the location where they were reportedly destroyed. The Council should consider who benefited from that attack, as Syria certainly did not. He went on to say that a dangerous trend towards the politicization of the OPCW to realize the geopolitical aspirations of certain States poses a serious threat to the Organisation’s credibility.
Kenya’s representative said: “We believe that an expeditious closure of investigations into the use of chemical weapons in Syria will allow the Council to support the Syrian people more meaningfully in their quest for peace and stability.”
Syria’s delegate, taking the floor towards the end of the meeting, rejected claims that his country is not cooperating with the OPCW, adding that the international community should focus more on chemical weapons falling into terrorist hands. He suggested that senior OPCW officials are distorting the facts to match a narrative put forward by the United States, France and the United Kingdom as they seek a pretext for aggression against Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Turning to the matter of the two cylinders and the alleged Douma incident, he said that they were destroyed in an air strike carried out by Israel on 8 June which the Director-General’s monthly report and the statements of several Council members chose to ignore. He added that Syria could not send the cylinders out of the country, as the OPCW had requested, as they were evidence in a judicial investigation into a terrorist incident. He also said that the OPCW is becoming a tool for some countries to use against others.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Tunisia, Mexico, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ireland, Viet Nam, France, Estonia, China, India and Iran.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 11:35 p.m.