Syria : no one can say that they did not know [fr]
Statement by Mr François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council – 5 February 2018
I would first like to congratulate Kuwait through you, Mr. President, on the start of its presidency of the Security Council. You can rely on France’s support in the month to come. I would also like to thank Izumi Nakamitsu for her usual very informative briefing.
This is the second time we have met in less than two weeks after reports of four new cases of the use of chlorine against Syria’s civilian population, some of them in Idlib province, which is a de-escalation zone. We are examining the information that is available and waiting for the conclusions of the investigative mechanism, but the reality is that resorting to toxic substances as weapons has never ended in Syria. I would like to remind the Council that the Syrian regime has already been identified as the perpetrator in four such cases, one of which involved the use of sarin, in violation of international humanitarian law and the obligations that Syria assumed when it acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The challenges go beyond the Syrian issue. A century after the end of the First World War, in which mustard gas was used on a massive scale against civilians, what we are seeing is shocking. These weapons, which we had thought were a thing of the past, are once again being used methodically and systematically by the Syrian regime against its own people. Furthermore, there is a real threat of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. The threat is all the greater given the fact that the dismantling of the Syrian chemical-weapon programme remains at a deadlock. The cooperation of the Syrian regime with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has for months taken place in a piecemeal manner, and suspicions remain about the status of Syrian stockpiles.
I would recall that OPCW expert teams have repeatedly found at Syrian sites indicators of undeclared substances, without any convincing explanation being provided by the country. Given that chemical weapons continue to be used, it seems that Syria has lied and maintained clandestine capacities. The situation is aggravating regional instability, undermining the non-proliferation regime and weakening the international security architecture, as well as jeopardizing the security of each of our States. It represents a violation of the law and flouts the most fundamental principles of humanity.
The international community cannot downplay the situation and allow the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to remain unpunished. It is the responsibility of the Security Council to prevent this; it is our shared responsibility. The criminals who chose to design and use these barbaric weapons must be punished. At stake is the future of our collective security system; no one can be allowed to undermine its foundations without facing consequences.
The hindrances and obstructions facing the international community’s initiatives within existing bodies contribute to promoting impunity, and this we cannot accept. For that reason, France launched in Paris an open, pragmatic partnership that brings together States that reject impunity for individuals involved in chemical-weapon attacks or in the development of chemical-weapon programmes. It brings together all the States concerned about the threat of erosion of the non-proliferation regime and of strategic stability. It was designed to support all international bodies and investigative mechanisms in their efforts. This universal partnership applies to all instances of the use of such weapons throughout the world by all perpetrators, be they State or non-State actors. The partnership is open,
and States that embrace these principles are invited to join.
Like everyone else here, we hope that a mechanism for the identification of those responsible will be recreated as soon as possible. However, any sincere and credible effort to that end must align with the basic standards of independence, impartiality and professionalism that underpinned the Joint Investigative Mechanism, as the very reason for the establishment of such a regime is to determine the truth. Within the Council, France will be very vigilant with respect to the principles listed and will not accept a lesser mechanism.
Impunity in Syria is not an option. The perpetrators of all of the crimes committed in Syria will be held accountable, sooner or later. The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria, which we support, is a part of that process. That is the only way to ensure lasting peace in Syria, and this can come about only in the framework of an inclusive political solution in Geneva, in line with resolution 2254 (2015), which more than ever before represents our shared compass.
The repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria has been proved. We cannot turn a blind eye to this, for no one can now say that they did not know. Denial or hypocrisy, or a combination of the two, cannot be presented as a strategy. The persistent use of chemical weapons in Syria represents a violation of the universal conscience as well as the most fundamental principles of international law. It also poses a potentially lethal threat to the sustainability of the international non-proliferation regime, which is the most comprehensive and successful of all of the international non-proliferation regimes. To allow it to be undermined without any response would be to accept the erosion of the entire international regime for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that we have built together, stone by stone, over the course of decades and which constitutes the very backbone of the international security architecture as well as one of the paramount gains of multilateralism.
On behalf of France, I call on all members of the Security Council to shift their attitudes and adjust their focus. The heavy responsibility that we all bear requires that we join together and take action.