Chemical Weapons in Syria: UN’s Top Disarmament Official Urges Security Council to Act

248 views | Akanimo Sampson | February 5, 2021

A top disarmament official of the United Nations is pushing for those who used chemical weapons in Syria to be held accountable for their deeds. But she does not want them to be identified.

UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, told the Security Council in a virtual briefing, ‘’without such an action, we are allowing the use of chemical weapons to take place with impunity. It is imperative that this Council shows leadership in demonstrating that impunity in the use of these weapons will not be tolerated.”

Ms. Nakamitsu was briefing the Council members on the implementation of resolution 2118 where unanimous agreement was reached in 2013 to condemn “in the strongest terms” any use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Through the resolution, the Security Council also expressed its “strong conviction” that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons there should be held accountable.   

Ms. Nakamitsu informed the Security Council that while the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the ability of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to deploy to Syria, the body’s Technical Secretariat continued with its activities related to the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

She also said that the OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) continues to study all available information related to allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as well as its engagement with the Government and other States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“As previously reported, further FFM deployments will be subject to the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.

Outstanding issues remain 

Ms. Nakamitsu recalled the information provided by the OPCW Director-General to the Security Council last December, which noted that three outstanding issues related to Syria’s initial declaration were closed, while 19 remain outstanding.

One of the issues pertained to a chemical weapons production facility, which Syria declared as never being used for such production, she said.

“However, the review of all the information and other materials gathered by the OPCW DAT since 2014, indicates that production and/or weaponization of chemical warfare nerve agents did take place at this facility.”

The OPCW secretariat has requested Syria to provide information on the “exact types and qualities” of agents produced and/or weaponized, but the country is yet to respond, Ms. Nakamitsu added.

The UN High Representative urged Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW secretariat, noting that “the confidence of the international community in the full elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme depends upon the OPCW being able to close these outstanding issues.”

In her briefing to the Council early in January, she said “identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” that remain unresolved, have brought into question the true extent of the elimination of chemical weapons during Syria’s bloody conflict. 

 Izumi Nakamitsu, said then that the declaration that Syria had submitted on its chemical weapons status “cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)”.

“Until these outstanding issues are closed, the international community cannot have full confidence that the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme has been eliminated”, she spelled out.

Prime Minister of Tunisia took the gavel, as his country holds the Council presidency through January, while Ms. Nakamitsu briefed ambassadors on the implementation of resolution 2118 where unanimous agreement was reached in 2013 to condemn “in the strongest terms” any use of chemical weapons in Syria.   

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the ability of the OPCW to deploy to Syria, its Technical Secretariat has continued with its mandated activities, the UN Official told the ambassadors.

She also explained that a fact-finding mission (FFM) in the country is investigating allegations of chemical weapons use regarding a “variety of incidents” and noted that further FFM deployments “will be subject to the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Meanwhile, the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) continued probing into FFM-determined incidents in which chemical weapons were used or likely used in Syria.

No justification 

There is no justification for the use of chemical weapons by “anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances”, the UN disarmament chief told the Council.

“The use of such weapons with impunity and without accountability is a threat to international peace and security and a danger to us all”, she said. “It is, therefore, imperative to hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons”.

Ms. Nakamitsu reiterated her “full support for the integrity, professionalism, impartiality, objectivity and independence” of the OPCW’s work and said that the investigation team would “issue further reports in due course”.

“As we start the new year, I state my sincere hope once again that members of this Council will unite on this issue”, she said, adding that ODA “stands ready to provide whatever support and assistance it can”.

In closing, she echoed the end of the year message of Secretary-General António Guterres: “Together, let’s make peace among ourselves and with nature, tackle the climate crisis, stop the spread of COVID-19, and make 2021 a year of healing”.

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