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Statement by Ambassador Sven Jürgenson at UN Security Council briefing on Syria Chemical Weapons

Thank you, Mr President. Allow me to congratulate you for taking up the position of the Security Council Presidency. Also, a very warm welcome to the new elected members – India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Norway. We look forward to working with you.

I thank the High Representative Izumi Nakamitsu for her briefing. Despite the lack of progress in this file, we highly appreciate you joining us every month with a very important message. Like you did today, you remind this Council – normally to conclude your intervention – that the use of chemical weapons is intolerable and a serious violation of international law; and that it is imperative that those who use, or have used, chemical weapons are identified and held accountable.

This reminder should be actually superfluous. I doubt it that there is anyone in this Council who would disagree with you. The Security Council has confirmed this position in its resolution 2118 and most recently in the Presidential Statement of November 2019. Many of us emphasise these same lines in our interventions. Yet, regrettably, a gap has been widening in regards to the values, norms and commitments the Security Council has agreed upon and the way it upholds them.

Take accountability. Resolution 2118 clearly states that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable. In the face of clear evidence of the use of chemical weapons, the Security Council has an obligation to act and respond decisively. The evidence is there. Consistent, science-based, solid evidence that the Syrian regime has at least in seven occasions used chemical weapons against its own people has been provided by independent and  best experts in this field – the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism and the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team. Yet all attempts in the Council to take action and move towards accountability have been blocked by the Russian Federation who dislikes the inconvenient outcomes of the reports and, therefore, cannot accept them.

In the Presidential Statement of 2019, the Security Council unanimously reaffirmed its strong support for the work of the OPCW. However, in practice we hear from a member state how the OPCW Technical Secretariat is exercising double-standards, engages in political smear-campaigns and manipulates and falsifies its reports. This is not a constructive criticism to make an institution stronger, but a concerted disinformation campaign to shield Assad regime’s crimes and undermine the prohibition against chemical weapons.

Resolution 2118 also stipulates that the Syrian Arab Republic shall cooperate fully with the OPCW. However, seven years and eighty-seven monthly reports later there are still nineteen outstanding issues remaining with the initial declaration. As we learn from the current Director-General’s report, Syria is not responding to several OPCW requests of information regarding its chemical weapons production facilities. Syria has blatantly ignored the OPCW Executive Council decision of July 2020 and the Technical Secretariat’s offers of assistance. But, instead of condemning such a behaviour, we hear from some members of this Council encouragements to non-compliance. We hear how all the outstanding issues are basically fabricated and that the Executive Council sets Syria impossible and unrealistic demands.

Mr President, the re-emergence of chemical weapons is one of the most urgent threats to international peace and security. Beyond their widespread use by the Syrian regime as a weapon of war to suppress opposition and terrorise its people, chemical weapons have been recently also used in assassination attempts. The use of Novichok in 2018 in UK against the Skripals, and last year in Russia against the opposition politician Aleksei Navalny constitutes a violation of international law and poses a threat to international peace and security. We reiterate our call on Russia to investigate the crime thoroughly and in full transparency bearing in mind Russia’s commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Security Council has an obligation to address and respond to the use of chemical weapons considering the threats they bring to international peace and security. We hope that in 2021 the Security Council does not remain idle and takes action to uphold its resolutions, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the UN Charter. To echo Ms Nakamitsu, we hope that members of this Council will unite on this important issue.

I thank you, Mister President.