What's In Blue

Posted Tue 6 Oct 2015

Syria Chemical Weapons Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (7 October), Acting UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo will brief Security Council members on the monthly report (S/2015/737) on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. The report notes the Council’s establishment of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the Secretary-General’s appointment of Virginia Gamba, the current Deputy High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, to head a three-member panel that will exercise overall responsibility for the JIM. Adrian Neritani and Eberhard Schanze were also appointed to the panel to lead, respectively, on the political and investigative components of the JIM’s work.

Many Council members will be interested in an update regarding progress made in operationalising the JIM. According to resolution 2235, the Secretary-General is to inform the Council when the JIM commences full operations, and the JIM is to submit a report to the Council within 90 days of becoming operational. Some Council members are expecting the JIM to be fully operational possibly in late October or early November and will be seeking clarification of the accuracy of this time-frame during tomorrow’s consultations. They are also likely to be interested in getting a sense of whether and when Gamba might begin to participate in the monthly chemical weapons consultations.

Council members will also want updates on the work of the OPCW fact-finding mission and when its next report will be ready. (Once available, the fact-finding mission’s reports are incorporated into the regular OPCW monthly reports to the Council.) It is possible that the OPCW fact-finding mission’s next report may reach the Council around the same time that the JIM becomes operational. This confluence of events may have particular relevance for how the fact-finding mission and the JIM will coordinate their respective tasks. Once the JIM is operational, it will have access to the entire body of work of the OPCW fact-finding mission (not just the reports) and, unlike the fact-finding mission, will be able to attribute responsibility for use of chemical weapons if warranted by the evidence. The JIM is also able to receive information from member states as well as undertake its own investigations, independent of the fact-finding mission’s work. While some Council members are pleased that there is more activity on the chemical weapons track, with the JIM soon becoming operational and the OPCW fact-finding mission finalising its next report, they anticipate that the next point for substantive engagement by the Council will be in early 2016 when the JIM is expected to submit its first report.

Other issues likely to be raised during tomorrow’s consultations include ongoing destruction activities pursuant to resolution 2118; the work of the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team that examines gaps in Syria’s declared chemical weapons; and allegations that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has used mustard agents in their mortar attacks.

Separately, Council members have begun to discuss a Russian draft resolution circulated on 30 September after the ministerial-level open debate on countering terrorism in the Middle East. The draft resolution includes elements from a recent Russian draft presidential statement that was being negotiated in the lead-up to the open debate but could not be adopted due to the lack of agreement from the US. Apparently the US believed that adoption of the draft text would be perceived as encouragement of cooperation with the Syrian government and approval by the Council of the Russian military build-up in Syria. It seems that the US, as well as a number of other members, continue to hold this view, especially in light of Russia’s recent military activity in Syria.

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