Security Council Briefing: Syria (Chemical Weapons)

Statement by Karel J.G. van Oosterom,
Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York

New York, 5 November 2018

Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you Ms. Nakamitsu for your informative briefing.

Mr. President, I will focus on three points:

  • Our support for the OPCW;
  • Accountability; and
  • Political developments.

1. Support for the OPCW

Mr. President, my first point on our support for the OPCW and for the establishment of the attribution mechanism. We thank the SG for the 61st OPCW report. And we support the objective and professional work of OPCW Fact Finding Mission.

Mr. President, it remains unacceptable that almost 5 years after Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, its declaration can still not be verified as accurate and complete. The Kingdom of the Netherlands reiterates the importance of the outcome of the Conference of State Parties on 27 June, this year. An overwhelming majority of Member States have reconfirmed and strengthened the global standard against the use of chemical weapons by deciding on the establishment of an attribution mechanism. The Kingdom of the Netherlands therefore praises the Director-General of the OPCW for its commitment to implement this decision expeditiously.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands expresses great concern about the obstructive attitude of the Russian Federation during the recent budget discussions in the OPCW. By frustrating the discussions on the OPCW budget for 2019, the Russian Federation tries to delay the legitimate establishment of the attribution mechanism. It also puts the overall functioning of the OPCW at risk.

We call on the Russian Federation to engage constructively and to demonstrate support for the solemn purpose of the OPCW. And that purpose is to eradicate chemical weapons worldwide under a United Nations mandate.

2. Accountability

This brings me to my second point, the need for accountability. Syrians deserve justice. Impunity for chemical weapons use cannot be allowed. Accountability for chemical weapons use in Syria is neither optional nor negotiable. The use of chemical weapons is never permitted, by anyone, under any circumstance. Therefore upholding the international non-proliferation regime is crucial. This norm has been endangered by the Syrian regime. We look forward to the final report on the attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 to be published before the end of the year.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands welcomes the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation between the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW and the IIIM. The possibility for the OPCW to share information with the IIIM can make an important contribution to combating impunity in Syria. It is therefore an important first step towards accountability.

We remain convinced that a referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC is by far the best option. It is the best way to achieve accountability for the most serious crimes that have taken place in Syria. As long as this Council is prevented from referral to the ICC of the situation in Syria, we will continue our efforts for accountability elsewhere: in the OPCW, with the IIIM, the Commission of Inquiry, the Paris Partnership.

Mr. President, we emphasize that JIM archiving is done on the basis of the applicable UN rules and procedures as Ms. Nakamitsu shared with us during the previous Syria Chemical Weapons session. A letter of ODA or the Secretary-General does not have any added value. For that reason we cannot support the Russian request for a letter.

3. Political developments

Mr. President, this brings me to my third point: political developments. We welcome the reduced level of violence in Idlib after the Turkish-Russian MoU.

We are concerned however by the recent statement of the Syrian regime’s representative in this Council that “it will retake Idlib at a time of its choosing”. Escalation of violence in Idlib by the regime will lead to humanitarian catastrophe. It would reconfirm that the regime does in no way prioritize protecting the Syrian people. Citizens in Idlib deserve protection. A military confrontation will undermine lasting stability and peace. We call on Turkey and Russia to involve the United Nations in the implementation of the humanitarian side of the MoU.

We may not allow ourselves to miss the window of opportunity offered by the situation in Idlib for the actual convening of the Constitutional Committee. It should be used as the starting point of a broader, sustainable political process on the basis of Security Council Resolution 2254.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands pleads to convene the Constitutional Committee as soon as possible, before the end of the year, and before the departure of Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.

We call on all parties, particularly the Syrian regime, to cooperate constructively with the United Nations to prevent further delays in the political process.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mr. President, with reference to the earlier statement of our Russian colleague on the White Helmets, we reconfirm our point of view that the White Helmets are brave humanitarian workers. They have been attacked on the ground by the Syrian regime while engaging in purely humanitarian efforts. Those attacks are unacceptable.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

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