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Syria: Use of chemical weapons ‘blight’ on international community’s conscience

Destroyed buildings in Aleppo city, Syria, where chemical weapons were allegedly used. (file)
© UNICEF/Ninja Charbonneau
Destroyed buildings in Aleppo city, Syria, where chemical weapons were allegedly used. (file)

Syria: Use of chemical weapons ‘blight’ on international community’s conscience

Peace and Security

Impunity for the use of chemical weapons is “intolerable,” the UN disarmament chief told the Security Council meeting on Syria, held on Monday morning.

“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,” said High Representative Izumi Nakamitsu.

OPCW updates

She updated the Ambassadors on the activities of the Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) with counterparts at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), including a regular monthly call with Director-General Fernando Arias.

Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (file).

Despite travel restrictions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the OPCW Technical Secretariat has continued with its mandated activities on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Meanwhile the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) is persisting with ongoing efforts to clarify outstanding issues related to Syria’s declarations submitted in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

“I have been advised that the OPCW Secretariat has not yet received the requested declaration…on all undeclared types and quantities of nerve agents produced and/or weaponized at one former chemical weapons production facility…declared by the Syrian Arab Republic as never having been used to produce and/or weaponize chemical warfare agents”, she stated.

Nor has it received information from Syria on the unauthorized movement and remains of two destroyed cylinders related to a chemical weapon incident in Douma on 7 April 2018, she continued, urging the Government to respond to these requests “as soon as possible”.

Ms. Nakamitsu told the Ambassadors that for almost 10 months, the OPCW has attempted to schedule talks in Damascus, however, Syria’s “continued refusal” to issue an entry visa for one member has prevented discussions there.

Unresolved issues

As a result of identified gaps, inconsistencies and unresolved discrepancies, OPCW is unable at this stage to assess Syria submitted declaration and cannot consider it to be accurate and complete in accordance with the CWC.

“I reiterate my call to the Government…to facilitate arrangements for the deployment of the DAT as soon as possible…it is only through complete cooperation…with the OPCW Technical Secretariat that all outstanding issues related to the Syrian Arab Republic’s initial declaration can be closed,” Ms. Nakamitsu affirmed.

“The confidence of the international community in the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme depends upon these issues being finalized”.

Fact-Finding Mission

The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) continues to analyse all available information related to allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria and is preparing for upcoming deployments, subject to the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to an FFM report, there are reasonable grounds to believe that on 1 September 2015, a chemical blistering agent was used. However, whether or not chemicals were used as a weapon could not be established.

In a separate report about an incident in Kafr Zeita on 1 October 2016, the FFM concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that a chlorine cylinder was indeed “used as a weapon”.

A copy of both FFM reports was shared with the Council earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) continues to probe incidents in which the FFM has determined that chemical weapons were or may have been used in Syria and will issue further reports in due course

Only through solidarity and shared humanity can we alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people – UN disarmament chief

‘Full support’ to OPCW

With the primary responsibility for international peace and security, “unity in the Security Council continues to be necessary”, said the UN disarmament chief, adding that those identified as responsible for using chemical weapons must be held accountable.

“Such profound violations of international law cannot continue to go unaddressed and unresolved”, she reminded, urging members to “set aside” their differences and refocus their efforts to reach a political solution that includes essential freedoms and human rights and holds accountable those who use chemical weapons.

“Only through solidarity and shared humanity can we alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and move towards justice, peace, and reconciliation.”