Izumi Nakamitsu, UN’s under-secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, said that the Syrian regime is still failing to comply with a Security Council resolution ordering the destruction of its chemical weapon stockpiles.
Damascus also continues to withhold information related to its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people, has failed to give a consistent explanation for the presence of traces of chemical warfare nerve agents at the sites of several attacks, and refuses to grant an entry visa to a key member of a UN assessment team.
She was delivering her 105th briefing to the Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 2118, which was unanimously adopted in September 2013 following a UN investigation that confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of people, including children, suffocating after breathing in the nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.
The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014 and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It also banned Syria from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.
In October 2013, Syria submitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons a formal initial declaration about its chemical weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of its stockpiles.
Nine years later, Nakamitsu said, the declaration and responses to 20 outstanding issues with it remain riddled with gaps and inconsistencies and still cannot be considered accurate.
One of those issues concerns a facility Syrian authorities said has never been used to produce chemical weapons. However, information and evidence gathered by the OPCW since 2014 indicates that the production or weaponization of chemical warfare nerve agents did indeed take place there.
Nakamitsu once again called on the Syrian government to disclose the types and quantities of chemical agents produced or weaponized at the site. It has not responded to repeated demands for this information.
Another issue, Nakamitsu said, is the Syrian government’s “unauthorized movement” of two chlorine cylinders found at the scene of a chemical weapon attack in the city of Douma in April 2018. The regime has said the cylinders were destroyed as a result of the purported attack, but Nakamitsu again urged Damascus to disclose the whereabouts of the cylinders “with the necessary urgency.”
She added that full cooperation with the OPCW is required to resolve the outstanding issues, and lamented the regime’s refusal to grant an entry visa to a prominent member of the Declaration Assessment Team, which has stalled the 25th round of consultations in Damascus between the team and the Syrian government.
“I urge the government of the Syrian Arab Republic (to) facilitate arrangements for the deployment of the DAT (by) allowing immediate and unfettered access for all personnel designated by the OPCW Secretariat as soon as possible,” she said.
Dimitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, described Nakamitsu’s remarks as part of a “pattern” designed to create the impression that Syrian authorities are not being cooperative.
He said the regime is in full compliance with its obligations to the OPCW. The envoy accused the organization of “longstanding bias against Damascus,” and its fact-finding mission of spreading misinformation and shaping its reports “to fit the narrative of Damascus guilt.” He also rejected “any report” it produces as “an illegitimate product of an illegitimate body.”
Polyanskiy accused western countries of politicizing the OPCW and undermining its ability to “confront real threats,” including “evidence of terrorist groups in the Middle East having access to chemical warfare agents,” saying: “(Daesh) has a full-fledged chemical program but no measure to counter it is ever heard about.”
The UAE’s Shahd Matar reiterated her country’s “explicit rejection and condemnation of the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances, by anyone and in any place, where its use constitutes a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention and intentional law.”
She told members of the Security Council that “engaging in constructive dialogue is essential to assess the status of the outstanding issues and make progress in this file, which requires the concerned authorities to find a consensual solution.”
Matar stressed the need to completely eradicate chemical weapons and prevent any party from obtaining or using them, “whether in Syria or outside it,” warning of the danger that such weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups that seek to acquire them for “dangerous ends.”
She also called the council to strengthen its efforts to combat Daesh and “prevent it from regrouping and acquiring chemical weapons,” as the terrorist group attempts to develop its combat capability.