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

New York, 5 February 2018

Thank you Mr. President. As this is the first time under the Kuwaiti presidency that I make a statement, please let me honor your presidency by saying that in Arabic: “shukran ktir, said al rais.”

I would also like to thank Mrs Izumi Nakamitsu for her comprehensive and clear briefing.

Mr. President, I will address three issues today:

  • Reports about the renewed use of chemical weapons in Syria,
  • The need for accountability, and
  • The OPCW report at hand.

1. Renewed use of chemical weapons the past weeks

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is shocked about the recent reports of chemical attacks in Syria, including this weekend and last night. We are outraged.

In Douma, Eastern-Ghouta, Idlib, and last night in Saraqeb, innocent civilians, including children, have become victims once again of horrible chemical weapons attacks. Such attacks deserve the strongest condemnation of this Council as violations of international law.

Furthermore, recent OPCW laboratory tests show that samples of the chemical attack on Ghouta in August 2013 correspond to the chemical weapon arsenal declared by the Syrian regime in 2014 and the Khan Sheikoen attack in 2017. This confirms once again that the Assad regime uses chemical weapons against its own population.

Mr. President, we pay tribute to the work of the White Helmets who have saved more than 100.000 civilians from the rubble of the Syrian war.

Mr. President, the use of chemical weapons should never go unpunished. Impunity erodes the important prohibition of the use of chemical weapons. It is inconceivable that now impunity reigns.

Mr. President, this brings me to my second point:

2. Need for accountability

As others have said, we had a well-functioning and professional mechanism to ensure accountability for the use of Chemical Weapons in Syria: the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM).

The JIM repeatedly determined the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and by Daesh. It had a strong mandate to investigate and identify perpetrators, independently from the politics in this Council. And it did so accordingly.

But the renewal of its mandate fell victim to the repeated use of the veto. Mr. President, that does not mean we now need to settle for less.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is prepared to work together on any proposal that strengthens accountability and international rule of law.

But let me emphasis that a weak accountability mechanism is not an option. For us the fundamental characteristics of any accountability mechanisms are the principles of impartiality, independence, comprehensiveness and effectiveness.

In order to uphold these principles, a mechanism should at least meet the following requirements:

First, it should operate independently from the Security Council, including when it comes to the attribution of guilt. It should be impartial, separation of powers is necessary to prevent undue politicization.

Secondly, the mechanism should be effective. It should independently decide how it will conduct its investigations, including in analyzing facts and assessing the quality of evidence.

And lastly, it should be comprehensive and investigate and identify perpetrators of all parties to the armed conflict, both state and non-state actors.

Mr. President, the draft that is currently being discussed has not yet met these important principles.

This brings me to my third point:

3. The 52nd OPCW Report

The briefing of the High Representative was very clear on this. Unfortunately, the report points out that too little progress has been made by the Syrian authorities in addressing the outstanding questions which the OPCW has posed about the declaration of the Syrian authorities. It is essential that the Syrian authorities cooperate seriously with the OPCW.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands supports the continuous work of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM). We call on states to make efforts to ensure that the FFM can continue its work independently.

Mr President,

In conclusion, we stand ready to adopt the draft press statement as circulated before. We are convinced that the Security Council cannot allow the continued use of chemical weapons to go unpunished.

Impunity is a curse, accountability is a must. This Council has to act. And as long as this Council is blocked by the use of the veto to achieve accountability, we will continue our efforts also outside of this Council.

We therefor strongly support other accountability initiatives for Syria such as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) and the Commission of Inquiry (CoI). And we support the Partnership against Impunity, as just highlighted by our French colleague.

But let me repeat what I have said here before. This Council should refer the situation in Syria and especially the mass atrocities committed in the conflict to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.  

I thank you, Mr. President.

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