Arria-Formula Meeting on Victims of Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria
The US has arranged a closed Arria-formula meeting tomorrow morning (16 April) for Council members to hear first-hand accounts of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Council members will be briefed by a Syrian doctor who treated victims of the 16 March attack in Sarmin; Dr. Zaher Sahloul, who heads the Syrian American Medical Society that supports several field hospitals that received victims of chlorine bomb attacks around Idlib in March; and Qusai Zakarya, a survivor of the 21 August 2013 chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, outside Damascus—which reportedly killed hundreds and prompted the Council to adopt resolution 2118 on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
During the 2 April consultations on Syria’s chemical weapons, several Council members expressed interest in learning more about the recent chemical weapons attacks around Idlib. The first of this particular series of alleged chlorine bomb attacks occurred on 16 March in Sarmin just ten days after the Council adopted resolution 2209, which condemned the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine and threatened sanctions. Hospitals supported by the Syrian American Medical Society have reported five instances of chlorine bomb attacks between 16 and 26 March and Human Rights Watch has reported on seven attacks in a similar time period between 16 and 31 March. All of these chemical weapons attacks were allegedly carried out via government helicopters barrel bombing opposition-controlled territory during a major clash over control of Idlib—a city located on the main highway linking Aleppo and Damascus. The countryside surrounding Idlib has been in opposition hands for some time, and by 28 March a coalition of rebel groups, including Al-Nusra Front, captured the city of Idlib from government forces.
If the alleged attacks are substantiated, they would be violations of resolutions 2118 and 2209 that threatened further measures for non-compliance. However, the US—the Council member most likely to initiate any response to the government’s use of chlorine bombs—has not yet introduced any concrete Council follow-up. Several Council members doubt there will be any such initiative until the fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons completes its investigation. Currently, the fact-finding mission plans to examine the March attacks as well as the government’s December 2014 claim that rebels had used chlorine in several incidents. The time-line of when the fact-finding mission’s findings may reach the Council is unclear, and many Council members view tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting as a way to remain engaged on the issue in the interim.
Looking ahead, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Ertharin Cousin, who heads the UN World Food Programme, will brief the Council at a 24 April ministerial-level meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria. At that session, it seems likely that the Council will adopt a presidential statement focused on the refugee crisis and the humanitarian impact on neighboring countries. On the political track, Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will brief that same afternoon on his plans to revive the Geneva process towards a negotiated political transition.