What's In Blue

Posted Wed 4 May 2016

Syria: Chemical Weapons Briefing and Draft Resolution

Tomorrow (5 May), Acting UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo will brief Council members on the Secretary-General’s most recent report (S/2016/391) on progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

As in previous briefings, Kim will reiterate that the status of the remaining destruction activities is unchanged. Due to the security situation in Syria, there is one chemical weapons production facility yet to be destroyed and the destruction of two others yet to be verified. The ongoing issues in these monthly briefings are the work of the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team that examines gaps in Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal; the work of the OPCW fact-finding mission to determine whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria; and the work of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM)—the body mandated to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

When Kim last briefed on 13 April, he conveyed the 23 March decision by the OPCW Executive Council that its Director-General should engage directly with Syrian government officials regarding gaps in Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal. After 25 visits and 70 interviews over two years, the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team has been unable to determine if Syria’s declaration is accurate and complete, nor has it been able to clarify the discrepancies it has identified. Tomorrow’s briefing is expected to provide more detail on the work of the DAT, and the subsequent activities by the Director-General to resolve outstanding issues with Syrian authorities, including through a meeting at OPCW headquarters in late April.

Members may use tomorrow’s meeting to also discuss the draft resolution China and Russia circulated during the 13 April chemical weapons consultations. The draft resolution sought to expand the mandate of the JIM to include the monitoring and investigation of the potential use of chemical weapons by non-state actors. Since August 2015 there have been several allegations of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham using mustard gas in Iraq and Syria.

During negotiations of the draft resolution on 21 and 26 April, all Council members agreed that the use of chemical weapons by non-state actors is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. However, the P3 and many other members believe it is too broad a threat to be tied to the JIM’s mandate, which is specific to Syria. They were in favour of anchoring the issue in the Chemical Weapons Convention and the work of the OPCW. It seems that there is now general agreement over this, as well as on carving out a role for the Council’s 1540 Non-Proliferation Committee. However, Russia has yet to circulate a revised draft for further consideration following the 26 April negotiations. It seems the sticking point is P3 insistence on including language related to the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team and the unresolved discrepancies in the Syrian government’s declaration of its chemical weapons arsenal. Despite constructive negotiations overall, at press time, it remained unclear if this final issue could be resolved.

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