I thank High Representative Nakamitsu for her briefing on the implementation of the Security Council resolution 2118.
Last month, the 21st of August marked the seventh anniversary of chemical weapons attack that took place in Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The attack remains one of the most horrendous, large-scale atrocities conducted during the Syrian conflict by the Assad regime against its own people. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented that during the Goutha attacks at least 1144 individuals suffocated to death. 1119 of them were civilians, including 99 children and 194 women.
Despite the Syrian accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, its government forces have continued to use sarin gas and chlorine bombs to supress opposition, terrorize civilians and punish them for their demand to end dictatorship. The regime has conducted almost all verified chemical weapons attacks that have taken place in Syria. The Joint Investigative Mechanism and the IIT have determined that altogether in seven instances the Syrian regime was responsible for using chemical weapons against its people.
Since until today Syria has failed to declare and destroy all of its chemical weapons and their production facilities, we have not been assured that new attacks will not happen again.
Estonia condemns the use of chemical weapons in the strongest terms. Any use of such weapons is a grave violation of international law. The seriousness of such acts are further supported by the Security Council determination in its resolution 2118 that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security.
Yet regrettably, so far, chemical weapons attacks in Syria have been largely committed with impunity. So far, this Council has failed to uphold its own decisions, to discuss seriously how to move forward with accountability measures and put an end to these horrific crimes. Instead, we see systematic efforts from the Russian Federation to discredit and undermine the OPCW’s competence and authority and question the validity of the reports of its investigative bodies, whenever their conclusions do not fit with Russia’s political agenda and interests.
These actions have serious consequences. We are allowing the norm against the use of chemical weapons to erode. We are allowing setting in a new normality where chemical weapons are used to eliminate political rivals and punish the opposition. An alarming increase in their use have already taken place over the past years.
Just last week we learned about the usage of a chemical nerve agent of the Novitschok group to poison the Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. We strongly condemn the attack and call for an impartial and international investigation that would include the experts of the OPCW. We urge Russia to cooperate and provide an account how the nerve agent came to be used in the poisoning of Mr Navalny.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, has been used against people whom Russia perceives as adversaries. The 2018 attack against Sergey and Yulia Skripal on British soil and poisoning of Navalny show that there is a repetitive pattern here. Similarly, in 2017, the North Korean regime used the nerve agent VX to assassinate Kim Jong Un’s brother in a Malaysian airport.
Mr President, Estonia is convinced that a robust international response is essential to hold those responsible to account for the use of chemical weapons, seek justice for the victims and prevent such attacks from happening again. The Security Council and all its members have a responsibility to protect the international non-proliferation regime, which underpins our collective security. The use of a weapon of mass destruction by anyone and anywhere, under any circumstances is not and cannot become acceptable.