The United States on Thursday accused Syrian President Bashar Assad and his close ally Russia of trying to block all efforts to hold Damascus accountable for the use of chemical weapons in attacks on civilians.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council that the Assad regime tried to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and undermining the role and work of the OPCW , the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is the international watchdog for chemical weapons.
She accused Russia of defending Assad despite his chemical weapons attacks, of obstructing independent investigations and of undermining efforts to hold the Syrian government accountable not only for the use of chemical weapons but for many other atrocities.
OPCW investigators blamed Assad’s government for three chemical attacks in 2017 in April 2020.
The OPCW Executive Council responded by demanding that Syria provide details. When it failed to do so, France submitted a draft measure on behalf of 46 countries in November to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges within the Global Observatory, meaning it would lose its vote. It will be considered at the April meeting of the 193 OPCW Member States.
Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, under pressure from Russia after a deadly chemical weapons attack the West blamed on Damascus. In August 2014, the Assad government declared the destruction of its chemical weapons complete. But Syria’s initial statement regarding its chemical stockpiles and chemical weapons production sites to the OPCW has remained disputed.
The United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, told the council that issues related to Syria’s declaration remained unresolved, including a chemical weapons production facility that the Syrian government said did not never have been used for the production of chemical weapons.
She said, however, that analysis of the information and all documents gathered by the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team since 2014 indicates that the production and / or militarization of chemical warfare nerve agents has in fact occurred in this facility.
The team asked Syria to report the exact types and quantities of chemical agents produced and / or armed at this site, but no response was received, Nakamitsu said.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia has accused some countries, which he did not name, of repeatedly using the chemical weapons card as a tool to pressure the Syrian government, in using serious charges supported by unconvincing evidence such as video footage on social media or “testimonies” from knowingly biased witnesses or falsified facts.
At the same time, he said, they reject the counter-arguments provided not only by Russia and Syria, but also by independent experts and organizations, and give no coherent explanation as to why they do.
Nebenzia reiterated Russia’s accusations that the OPCW and its technical experts have become the transmitter of Western countries’ anti-Syrian claims – an allegation strongly denied by Nakamitsu, US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and many other speakers.
The root cause of the problem is that our Western colleagues have long turned Syria’s chemical dossier into a means of punishing unwanted authorities in Damascus, the Russian ambassador said.
Therefore, attempts to link the dossier to the actual use or non-use of chemical weapons are absolutely foolish.
Syria’s new Ambassador to the UN Bassam al-Sabbagh, who served as his country’s envoy to the OPCW for seven years after 2013, underscored the government’s condemnation of the use of chemical weapons and the denial of ever having used chemical weapons.
He said Syria had made tangible progress in resolving the issues in his initial statement and regretted that some countries still see the glass half empty and don’t hesitate to criticize rather than applaud the progress made.
French Ambassador to the UN Nicolas De Rivière replied that the Syrian regime is still lying, hiding the truth and evading its international obligations.
He stressed the need to fight against impunity. “
He sharply criticized the baseless accusations against the OPCW, saying they are outrageous and, above all, irresponsible.
The Security Council has a historic responsibility for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the reappearance of chemical weapons around the world is a major threat, De Rivière said. We cannot allow these weapons to become commonplace.
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