Damascus Representative Says Government Cooperating with Investigations, Claims Member States Turn ‘a Deaf Ear to the Truth’
Almost eight years after the Security Council mandated the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, tasked with effectuating that goal, continues to face challenges, including unaddressed discrepancies and insufficient cooperation, the senior United Nations disarmament official told the Security Council today.
Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the 15‑member organ on her Office’s recent engagement with its counterparts at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a month after her last address to the Council on the matter. Because of OPCW’s Technical Secretariat’s assessment regarding unresolved discrepancies and inconsistencies, the declaration submitted by Syria still cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, she noted.
“It is only through complete cooperation by the Syrian Arab Republic with the OPCW Technical Secretariat that all outstanding issues related to the Syrian Arab Republic’s initial declaration can be closed,” she emphasized. The OPCW Technical Secretariat still plans to conduct two rounds of inspections of the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre. However, these plans remain subject to evolving conditions on the ground, due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
The Syrian Government had confirmed its readiness to engage in a twenty‑fifth round of consultations with the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team later in the month, she reported. However, it has refused to issue an entry visa to one of the experts. “Given this situation, the Technical Secretariat confirmed that it would not deploy the Team to Syria,” she said.
As Council members took the floor, many of them expressed concern about the continuing stalemate between OPCW and Syria, with some calling for greater compliance from Syria and more decisive measures to ensure its accountability, while others called for an end to politicalizing the process and stressing the need for greater cooperation and goodwill to be fostered between the two parties.
The representative of the Russian Federation averred that OPCW has turned into a politicized instrument used by Western States to punish unwanted regimes. He also repudiated the OPCW findings on chlorine cylinders, remarking that its experts ought to be awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering “new” laws in alternative physics. The Syrian chemical dossier has long ceased to have anything to do with the issue of non‑proliferation of chemical weapons, he declared, adding Damascus continues to implement its obligations under the Convention.
The representative of the United States, voicing his disagreement, underscored that there is overwhelming evidence the Syrian regime has utterly failed its obligations under the Convention. Despite the Assad regime’s denials, as many as four separate chemical attacks have now been attributed to the regime by the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team. The Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations against the regime and take resolution action to address Syria’s non‑compliance.
Niger’s delegate observed a repetitive pattern between the OPCW pointing to unaddressed gaps of information by Syria and Syria countering that they are cooperating and have indeed provided the requested information. While this points to differing interpretations of the issue, he stressed: “This cycle of accusation and counter‑accusation must cease.” Continued good‑faith cooperation between OPCW and Syria could help resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, the representative of Tunisia underlined the need to restore cooperation between the Syrian Government and the OPCW’s Secretariat, recalling that OPCW also provides a forum for discussion and cooperation between States. All allegations pertaining to the use of chemical weapons must be dealt with in an independent, transparent and comprehensive manner, he said.
However, Syria’s representative said he stood against the efforts of some States to use OPCW as a tool against his country. Noting that the Declaration Assessment Team is not an investigative team, but a team which will help the Syrian authorities present their declaration, he defended his country’s decision to refuse an entry visa to a member of the OPCW’s Team. The expert had proved to be non‑objective in the past and could easily be replaced.
More so, he highlighted how Syria had voluntarily joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and met all its obligations in record time. Despite statements by some States, which prove that they continue to turn a deaf ear to the truth, Syria is cooperating with OPCW and is keen to close the file as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, the representative of Turkey said decisions made by the OPCW’s Executive Council and during the twenty‑fifth Conference of States Parties must be “worth more than the paper they are printed on”. He added that, as the body charged with maintaining international peace and security, the Council must uphold the authority of the Convention, emphasizing that: “This is not a choice. This is a responsibility”.
Also speaking were the representatives of Norway, Estonia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, France, China, Ireland, India, Viet Nam, United Kingdom, Mexico and Kenya.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 4:34 p.m.
IZUMI NAKAMITSU, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 2118 (2013) concerning the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme. Since the last Council meeting on the matter, her Office has been in regular contact with its counterparts at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In addition, she held a monthly call with the OPCW Director General three days ago to receive an update and hear his views. Although the ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic has impacted OPCW’s ability to deploy to Syria, it continues to undertake its mandated activities related to the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme and engage with the Syrian Government to this end.
Efforts by the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team are still ongoing to clarify all the outstanding issues related to the initial declaration by Syria to OPCW, she continued. In that regard, the Syrian Government must declare all chemical warfare agents produced and/or weaponized at the former chemical weapons production facility had never been used to produce and/or weaponize any weapons. Further, Syria has not yet responded to the OPCW Technical Secretariat’s request for information and documentation regarding the damage caused to the declared former chemical weapons production facility during the 8 June attack. She urged the Syrian Government to respond to the OPCW Technical Secretariat as soon as possible; the damage to the facility relates to an outstanding issue recently opened by the Declaration Assessment Team. The Technical Secretariat had also requested the Syrian Government to provide information regarding the two chlorine cylinders, related to the incidents in Douma in 2018, that were reported destroyed in an attack to the facility in June.
She went on to say that the Syrian Government confirmed its readiness to hold the twenty‑fifth round of consultations with the Team from 11 to 27 October. Unfortunately, on 23 September, the Syrian Arab Republic reconfirmed its refusal to issue an entry visa to one member of the Team, who had deployed to Syria on multiple occasions over the past seven years, for their upcoming deployment. Given this situation, the Technical Secretariat confirmed that it would not deploy the Team to Syria. While the Secretariat has invited Syria to send a delegation for the meeting later in the month with the Team at OPCW’s headquarters in the Hague, she underscored that such a meeting cannot replace full‑fledged deployments to Syria.
As a result of the unresolved identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies, the OPCW Technical Secretariat’s assessment is that at this stage, the declaration submitted by Syria cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Government should facilitate arrangements for the deployment of the Team as soon as possible, she said, underscoring that “it is only through complete cooperation by the Syrian Arab Republic with the OPCW Technical Secretariat that all outstanding issues related to the Syrian Arab Republic’s initial declaration can be closed”.
The OPCW Technical Secretariat still plans to conduct two rounds of inspections of the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre, although these plans remain subject to the COVID‑19 pandemic, she said. However, in that regard, the Government has not yet provided sufficient information or explanations that would enable the OPCW Technical Secretariat to close the issue related to the detection of a Schedule 2 chemical at the Barzah facilities in 2018.
Turning to the OPCW fact-finding mission, she said they are in the process of studying all available information related to allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and continue to engage with that country and other States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention with regard to a variety of incidents. Recalling the suspension of the rights and privileges of Syria on 21 April at the twenty‑fifth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, she said that these rights and privileges will be reinstated once all relevant and required measures are completed. “There is no justification for the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances,” she stressed. Those who have used chemical weapons must be identified and held to account, she said, expressing her sincere hope that members of the Security Council will unite on the issue.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the latest report of the OPCW Director General was built on the same template to create the impression that Syria is trying to hide something and to mislead the international community on the chemical file. The report’s methodology remained unchanged, burying the fact that Damascus continues to implement its obligations under the Convention. Referring to the April decision by the Conference of States Parties to the Convention to suspend Syria, he rejected the view of Western States that the decision received “broad support”. Rebutting OPCW’s findings on chlorine cylinders and its use of arithmetic and physics, including the law of gravity, he remarked that OPCW would be awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery of “new” laws in alternative physics. The OPCW and its experts sweep the facts inconvenient for them under the rug, he said, recalling that attempts to launch an investigation within OPCW into the Western coalition’s air strikes on the Shayrat airbase in 2017 had been blocked. He went on to describe the Technical Secretariat as “hypocritical”, as OPCW has turned into a politicized instrument of Western States to punish their unwanted regimes. The Syrian chemical dossier has long ceased to have anything to do with the issue of non‑proliferation of chemical weapons, he declared.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) said that, despite the Assad regime’s denials, the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team now attributed four separate chemical attacks to the regime. Evidence is clear that Syria avoided accountability and failed to cooperate with OPCW. The regime also failed to issue visas to members of the Declaration Assessment Team, including an expert who was previously deployed on multiple occasions. There is overwhelming evidence that the regime utterly failed its obligations under the Convention. Syria’s initial disclosures of chemical weapons cannot be considered accurate or complete. Its repeated failures on compliance must not be tolerated. The April decision by the Conference of States Parties to suspend Syria’s membership received overwhelming support, with 90 States voting in favour and only 15 opposing. The Russian Federation has defended the Assad regime and is spreading disinformation, he said, calling such acts irresponsible and dangerous. The Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations against the regime and take resolution action to address Syria’s non‑compliance.
TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway), expressing concern over the lack of positive development on the Syrian chemical weapons dossier, called on Damascus to fulfill its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Security Council resolution 2118 (2013). She further urged Syria to provide sufficient technical information or explanations to reconcile identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies, and to complete the measures necessary to lift the suspension of its rights and privileges as a State party to the Convention. Noting that the Declaration Assessment Team was last deployed to Syria in February, she also expressed concern over delays in the regular deployment and consultations of the same.
ADEL BEN LAGHA (Tunisia) expressed support for OPCW’s vital mandate to independently and impartially fulfill its verification responsibilities, including in Syria. Recalling that OPCW also provides a forum for discussion and cooperation between States on relevant issues, he stressed the need to re‑establish positive engagement and restore cooperation between the Government and OPCW’s Secretariat. He further called on relevant parties to make progress on pending issues so that Syria can fully honor its commitments. It was of great importance to investigate all allegations pertaining to the use of chemical weapons in an independent, transparent and comprehensive manner, he emphasized.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), noting continuing gaps and inconsistencies in Syria’s initial declaration, said that Damascus’ representative will, later in the meeting, likely speak of the Government’s cooperation and efforts to provide required information. This demonstrates differing interpretations on this issue, which the Council has heard before – some support Syria while others condemn – but this cycle of accusation and counter‑accusation must cease. To this end, he called for continued, good‑faith cooperation between the Government and OPCW to resolve pending issues in accordance with Council resolution 2118 (2013), adding that an upcoming meeting between Syria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and OPCW’s Director General – if it occurs – would be a step in right direction.
ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) emphasized that those who ordered or carried out chemical weapons attacks must be identified and face a reckoning. “Impunity is not an option,” he stressed. Without accountability, there is no credible prospect of lasting peace in Syria. He noted that it was regrettable that the Syrian Government’s cooperation with OPCW continues to deteriorate, including the denying of a visa to an expert of the Declaration Assessment Team. The lack of progress on this issue continues to pose a threat to the Syrian people and the international community. He voiced concern that several requests for information on the chlorine cylinders related to chemical weapons incidents remained persistently unanswered by Syrian authorities. Underscoring Estonia’s full trust in the impartiality and credibility of OPCW, he urged the Syrian Government to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions and international law.
DIANI JIMESHA ARIANNE PRINCE (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said sustained international cooperation is imperative and parties have an obligation to engage efficiently and constructively on all issues to make much‑needed progress on this dossier. Recognizing that cooperation becomes severely strained where trust deficits exist, she said OPCW must continuously strive to ensure that its internal structure and all activities are characterized by integrity, transparency and non‑politicization. Further, States Parties to the Convention should endeavour to pursue consensus‑based decisions to thwart polarization and divisiveness. Therefore, she underlined her continued support for OPCW’S important mandate to implement the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention and ensure that chemistry is only used for peace, progress and prosperity.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) called on Syria to provide access to all members of the Team of the initial declaration as soon as possible, and to provide all the elements and documents requested by the Technical Secretariat, in accordance with its obligations. Commending the tenacity, professionalism and independence with which the Technical Secretariat carried out its mission, he said that no explanation has been provided by the Syrian regime for the unauthorized removal and destruction of two chlorine cylinders linked to the Douma attacks. Calling on Syria to respond to the questions posed by the Technical Secretariat, he said the decision taken in April by the Conference of the States Parties is not irreversible. It is up to the regime to act if it wishes to recover its rights and privileges. Without cooperation on its part, the measures taken will remain in force. Syria must finally shed light on the 20 outstanding issues related to its initial declaration.
GENG SHUANG (China) underscored his country’s consistent position that dialogue is the only path to resolution of outstanding issues, and that excessive pressure can only be counterproductive in this regard. He called on relevant parties to respect scientific facts, engage in dialogue and settle pending issues. Stressing that the establishment of an investigation and identification team exceeds the scope of the Chemical Weapons Convention and runs counter to OPCW’s tradition of consensus, he expressed hope that OPCW’s Secretariat will adhere to its technical nature, uphold the spirit of objectivity and facilitate a return to the framework of the Convention.
JIM KELLY (Ireland) called on the Council to be united in upholding the international prohibition against chemical weapons and to be equally clear in its support for OPCW, whose role is essential. Expressing regret over Syria’s decision to refuse to grant a visa to a member of the Declaration Assessment Team – which led to further postponement of the Team’s deployment – he stated that Syria’s actions relating to visas are contrary to its obligations under Council resolution 2118 (2013). He also underscored the Syrian authorities’ failure to provide credible information requested by OPCW in a growing number of areas, including that relating to chlorine canisters – partial evidence of the chemical weapons attack that occurred in Douma in 2018 – that were moved without informing OPCW.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India), highlighting the upcoming visit of a Syrian delegation to engage with the Declaration Assessment Team in the Hague, expressed hope that both sides would resolve relevant issues expeditiously. Stressing that any investigation into the use of chemical weapons must be impartial, credible and objective, he called for evidence‑based conclusions, in conformity with the provisions and procedures embedded in the Chemical Weapons Convention. He further cautioned against the possibility of terrorist entities and individuals gaining access to chemical weapons including in the region. In this regard, he cited the latest report of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which referred to the repeated deployments of chemical weapons by that terrorist group against civilian populations between 2014 and 2016. “This is a cause for serious concern and needs to be acted upon,” he said.
HAI ANH PHAM (Viet Nam) observed that there has been little progress in the reporting period. Continued engagement between Syria and the OPCW Technical Secretariat was most important, especially with the Declaration Assessment Team, in addressing the remaining outstanding issues relating to the initial declaration. Constructive and non‑politicized technical consultations between the OPCW Technical Secretariat and the Syrian authorities are the only way towards resolving all reported identified gaps and inconsistencies and subsequently putting an end to this protracted issue. Expressing his country’s deep concern over the alleged uses of chemical weapons in Syria, he also called for attention on the long‑standing divergence of the international community over the issue, stressing the importance of a constructive and non‑politized international cooperation to ensure the full implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) voiced disappointment at the lack of response from Syria regarding the request from the OPCW Technical Secretariat on deploying the Declaration Assessment Team from May to June, and later, the refusal of a visa for one of the Team’s members, yet again resulting in the Team being unable to deploy. Though Syria alleges that the United Kingdom and others are using the chemical weapons file to punish them, she said: “The UK would like nothing more than to receive a monthly report from the Director General confirming that all declaration issues have been resolved and Syria’s chemical weapons programme verifiably destroyed.” She called on Syria to take this process seriously and engage in expeditious steps towards meeting in full its obligations under resolution 2118 (2013) and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
ENRIQUE JAVIER OCHOA MARTÍNEZ (Mexico) expressed regret that Syria has failed to comply with the obligations established both in resolution 2118 (2013) and in the Convention. He urged Council members with influence to persuade the Syrian authorities to cooperate with the work of the OPCW teams and to deliver the requested information as soon as possible. It is also important to explore new forms of direct interaction between the Security Council and OPCW experts, with a view to delving into the necessary data to continue evaluating the file, he said.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), Council President for October, speaking in his national capacity, noted that his country is a State party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and stressed that the use of chemical weapons anywhere and by anyone constitutes a grave violation of international law. Voicing support for OPCW’s mandate, he also said an expeditious closure of investigations into the use of chemical weapons in Syria will allow the Council to support its people more meaningfully. Also calling for good‑faith engagement between that country and the Secretariat, particularly regarding the identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies, he underscored that there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said stressed that he categorically rejects the use of chemical weapons by anyone anywhere. Moreover, Syria voluntarily joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and met all its obligations in record time. Despite statements by some States, which prove that they continue to turn a deaf ear to the truth, Syria is cooperating with OPCW and is keen to close the file as soon as possible, he emphasized.
Turning to OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team, he said Syria welcomes their visit to Damascus and has granted visas to all its members, apart from one. The OPCW will have no trouble finding a suitable replacement for this expert, who was found to be non‑objective in the past, he said. Recalling that visas are granted according to national and sovereign procedures to all international organizations, including OPCW, he said that not granting a single person a visa must not negatively affect the performance of any team. Moreover, he stressed that the Declaration Assessment Team is not an investigative team. “It is a team which will help the Syrian authorities present their declaration,” he said.
Turning to the issue of two cylinders, he said that they are of importance to Syria, as they constitute legal and material evidence that prove terrorist groups were in possession of toxic chemicals. He went on to condemn the Israeli intervention that destroyed them, adding that OPCW’S focus was on a technical and procedural matter alone. He also asserted that OPCW’s report on the Douma incident was fabricated and full of lies. Citing a report in the Daily Mail publication on 5 September, in which the BBC admitted that a Radio 4 documentary on the alleged chemical weapons attack contained serious inaccuracies, he said it proved “once again that open‑source information can be easily manipulated and cannot be considered reliable”.
He went on to say that the fact‑finding mission on the Douma incident employed flawed methods, including evidence gathering that did not preserve the chain of custody. It used information provided by disreputable sources allied to terrorist groups, such as the White Helmets. He noted his regret that the fact‑finding mission disregarded information provided by the Syrian Government concerning terrorist groups with chemical weapons. Syria stands against the efforts of some States to use OPCW as a tool against it, he stressed.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey), pointing out that the Syrian regime’s non‑compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention continues unabated, said that identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration persist while the regime consistently fails to respond to OPCW’s requests for information. Detailing other issues of concern – including the recent discovery of an undeclared chemical weapons production facility, the movement of chlorine canisters relating to the 2018 Douma attack without informing OPCW and the regime’s refusal to grant visas to OPCW officials – he stressed that these are not procedural issues; rather, they are part of a broader pattern of the regime’s non‑compliance. To address this, he called on Council members to put their issues aside and enforce Council resolution 2118 (2013). He also expressed support for OPCW’s efforts to bring the regime to compliance, stressing that decisions made by its Executive Council and during the twenty‑fifth Conference of States Parties must be “worth more than the paper they are printed on”. He added that, as the body charged with maintaining international peace and security, the Council must uphold the authority of the Convention, emphasizing that: “This is not a choice. This is a responsibility”.