Syria: Renewal of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism
This afternoon (17 November), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution to renew the mandate of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), the body mandated to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, for a further year, before it expires tomorrow.
Late last month, the JIM was extended for a short period when Russia made clear that it would not then support the renewal of the mechanism’s mandate, previously set to expire on 31 October.
At that time, Russia had apparently indicated to some Council members in private that it would veto a straightforward renewal of the JIM mandate, leaving the P3 in a difficult position in their attempt to try to salvage the only accountability mechanism established by the Council regarding Syria. Russia sought to broaden the JIM to include a regional mandate to monitor and investigate the use of chemical weapons by non-state actors and terrorist groups. However, the P3 and many other members believed that this was too broad a task to be tied to the JIM’s mandate, which is specific to determining responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria where the OPCW Fact Finding Mission has already confirmed their usage. Consequently, the Russian amendments to the draft were not acceptable to the P3 or to many elected Council members.
On 31 October, the Council adopted resolution 2314 authorising a short extension of the JIM to 18 November, providing more time for negotiations. The draft that is to be voted on this afternoon is the result of bi-lateral negotiations between Russia and the US outside of the Council, and was only shared with the entire Council membership yesterday (16 November). The one round of negotiations held on the draft yesterday reportedly went smoothly, and this morning the US put the draft resolution in blue for a vote this afternoon.
Importantly for a majority of Council members, the JIM’s mandate will remain focused on investigating cases in Syria where the OPCW Fact Finding Mission has already confirmed the usage of chemical weapons. The draft resolution does not give a broader regional mandate to the mechanism. However, in order to gain Russia’s support for the renewal, language has been added encouraging the JIM to consult, as appropriate, with the Council’s 1540 Non-Proliferation Committee and the 1267/1989/2253 Al-Qaida/ISIL Sanctions Committee. It also includes stronger language in relation to how the JIM can engage with regional states to better identify how non-state actors and terrorist groups may be involved in chemical weapons use in Syria.
To date, the JIM has concluded that of the nine cases it investigated, the Syrian regime used chlorine gas against its own population in three cases and that ISIL used mustard gas in one case. In the remaining five cases, the JIM could not make a conclusive determination of responsibility. The draft resolution that will be voted on this afternoon requests a report from the JIM within 90 days and “as appropriate” thereafter. It also requests the JIM to brief the 1540 Committee and the Al-Qaida/ISIL Sanctions Committee on relevant results of its work, i.e. the use of chemical weapons by non-state actors or terrorist groups.
In October, France and the UK were vocal about the need to impose sanctions for the government’s use of chemical weapons, and the US said it would seek “appropriate accountability”. It seems, however, given Russia’s threat of a veto on the JIM renewal in October, that the P3’s priority shifted to getting the JIM renewed rather than pursuing a sanctions resolution.
Looking ahead, on Monday (21 November), OCHA head Stephen O’Brien will brief the Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, when the focus is likely to be the lack of humanitarian access to rebel-held eastern Aleppo since July, as well as the humanitarian impact of the renewed airstrikes by Russia and the Syrian government in Aleppo, Homs and Idlib. Egypt, New Zealand and Spain, as the penholders on humanitarian issues in Syria, have requested a meeting under “any other business” after the humanitarian briefing on Monday to continue discussion on their draft resolution that calls for a 10-day truce in Aleppo and for the cessation of hostilities to be resumed across the rest of the country in line with resolution 2268.