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, 4 April 2018

Thank you very much Mr. President, and in honor of Peru’s Presidency let me try to say that in Spanish: muchas gracias, Señor Presidente.

Warm thanks also to Deputy High Representative Thomas Markram for his briefing.

Mr. President, this year, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. The ensuing ban against the use of chemical weapons raised the hope of the world to an end to the horrors of chemical warfare. Sadly, a 100 years later, chemical weapon attacks have been taking place in Syria, reportedly at least 85 times.

In that context, today I will make three points:

  1. Syria’s failure to comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention;
  2. The commemoration of the sarin attack at Khan Sheikhoun;
  3. Accountability.

1. Syria’s failure to comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention

My first point, Mr. President: Syria’s failure to comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention.

This month, 21 years ago the Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force: It was the first disarmament agreement that provides for the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction under universally applied international control. It was a great achievement.

Almost five years ago, Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria promised to destroy and abandon its chemical weapons programme.

Yet, month after month, we hear that the Syrian regime’s declaration cannot be considered complete or accurate. Until the declaration is complete, Syria is simply not complying with the Chemical Weapons Convention.

We are deeply concerned and we remain deeply concerned about this fact. And we reiterate our call upon the Syrian regime to extend its full and timely cooperation to the OPCW in The Hague.

2. The commemoration of the sarin attack at Khan Sheikhoun

Mr. President, my second point: the commemoration of the sarin attack at Khan Sheikhoun. Today we commemorate the horrendous sarin attack by the regime against Khan Sheikhoun on the 4th of April 2017, as Thomas Markram highlighted in his statement.

The conclusions of the UN OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism, mandated by this very Council, were clear: The Assad regime carried out the heinous April 4 attack killing approximately 100 innocent Syrian civilians, including many children, and injuring hundreds more. The report also determined that Daesh was responsible for using ‎the chemical weapon sulfur mustard attack on September 15 and 16, 2016 in Um-Housh, Syria.

Sadly, this was not the last time that we received reports that chemical weapons were used in Syria. Dozens of instances are currently being investigated by the Fact Finding Mission of the OPCW.

The use of chemical weapons should never go unpunished. Impunity erodes the important prohibition of the use of chemical weapons.

3. Accountability

This, Mr. President, brings me to my third point: accountability. All members in this Council regularly stress the need for accountability for perpetrators who use chemical weapons. Yet this Council has not been able to move forward for months due to the use of the veto by one Permanent Council member.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism had a strong mandate to investigate and identify perpetrators, independently from the politics in this Council. But its renewal fell victim to exactly these politics. That does not mean we now need to settle for less. More so because since the JIM ceased to operate, we received reports that the regime has carried out at least five more chemical weapons attacks and maybe even more.

So the disappearance of the JIM cannot be the end of the story.

First, we must act upon the conclusions of the Joint Investigative Mechanism and on the outcomes of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission.

I reiterate that a referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC in The Hague by this Council is the most appropriate path to accountability and justice.

Second, we must intensify our efforts to achieve a mechanism that can continue the meticulous work of the JIM.

Such a mechanism:

  • Should independently decide how it will conduct its investigations. Independently.
  • Should investigate and identify perpetrators of all parties to the armed conflict.
  • And it should operate independently from the Council, including when it comes to the attribution of guilt.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands believes it is the US draft text for a new mechanism that this Council should rally around.

Finally, we have to consider all instruments also outside of this Council to advance accountability for the use of chemical weapons. That work should build upon the important work of the JIM and the OPCW Fact Finding Mission. We are ready to take the lead in this regard.

In this context we also re-emphasize our strong support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) and the Commission of Inquiry (CoI). We also support the French Partnership against impunity.

Conclusion

In Conclusion, Mr. President. There is no middle ground in the Council when it comes to chemical weapons.

Ultimately, we must learn the lessons of history and ensure that, 100 years after the end of First World War, there can be no impunity for the use of chemical weapons.

To do otherwise is to effectively condone these appalling attacks. To do otherwise is to undermine the international architecture that we collectively designed to stop them.

In the words of the Secretary-General “we must begin to repair the damage to the chemical weapons disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”

The Kingdom of the Netherlands will continue to do its utmost to achieve accountability for the horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Impunity cannot prevail.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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