What's In Blue

Posted Tue 2 Dec 2014

Syria: Kaag’s Last Briefing on Chemical Weapons Destruction

Tomorrow morning (3 December), Special Adviser Sigrid Kaag will provide her last briefing to Council members in consultations (on 1 December she was appointed as the Special Coordinator for Lebanon). She will present the fourteenth monthly report (S/2014/853) on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Council members expect Kaag’s briefing to focus on remaining tasks in the implementation of resolution 2118, such as the verification of the ongoing destruction of chemicals outside Syria, plans to complete the destruction of chemical weapons production facilities in Syria by the summer of 2015, and clarification of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile. Even though tomorrow is Kaag’s last briefing, the Secretary-General will continue to submit monthly written reports on the issue. One question that may come up in tomorrow’s consultations is if Council members will continue to be briefed on a monthly basis and, if so, by whom. Many Council members expect the briefings to continue until resolution 2118 is fully implemented, and believe a representative from the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs would be an appropriate interlocutor.

When Kaag last briefed on 5 November, many Council members expressed an interest in keeping a reporting line open to the Council regarding Syria’s use of chlorine bombs, particularly after the 10 September fact-finding report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found evidence that chlorine had been consistently and repeatedly used in barrel bombs dropped from helicopters. While the report did not attribute blame, only the government has aerial capacity.

Council members expect this issue to be part of the discussion tomorrow since the most recent 2118 implementation report said that the next OPCW fact-finding report on the use of chlorine bombs, which is expected in the first half of December, signals that the key findings from the 10 September report remain valid. While the OPCW fact-finding reports are public, many Council members want to ensure that the Council has formal access to such information as it indicates that resolution 2118 has been breached. The OPCW is obligated to report non-compliance to the Security Council.

Deep divisions remain within the Council over the government’s use of chlorine bombs. The US has said such allegations raise serious questions about Syria’s obligations under resolution 2118 and the Chemical Weapons Convention, whereas Russia has argued that The Hague, not the Security Council, would be the appropriate arena to address any alleged breaches of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

While the chemical weapons track has been relatively quiet since summer, with Kaag’s role finishing at the end of the year, recently there has been revived focus on the issue. Russia has expressed a strong preference to move it out of the Council and allow the OPCW to deal with remaining issues on a purely technical level. However, those Council members who are concerned about the use of chlorine bombs want to continue to send strong signals to the Syrian government that the chemical weapons file is not closed at the Security Council.

Looking forward, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos will brief on the humanitarian track in mid-December. Separately, many Council members expect the authorisations in resolution 2165 for cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access in Syria, including the monitoring mechanism, to be renewed before humanitarian leads Australia and Luxembourg leave the Council when their term ends on 31 December.

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