Syria’s chemical capacities must be dismantled [fr]
Syria Chemical - Security Council emergency meeting - Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 5 April 2017
I should like to begin by thanking the United States presidency for agreeing to our request to convene an emergency meeting of the Security Council and to congratulate you, Madam, on your accession to the presidency. I also thank Mr. Kim Won-soo for his briefing and his efforts over the past two years as High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
After six years of conflict in Syria, marked by the most appalling violence against the civilian population, and in particular by the prolonged and repeated use of chemical weapons — in particular chlorine gas — by the Syrian regime against its own people, we awoke yesterday to learn yet again that an ignoble attack had just been committed at Khan Shaykhun, south of Idlib. This can only remind us of the terrible day of 21 August 2013, following the chemical attacks by the regime in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, whose unbearable images haunt our memories.
This chemical horror, which is hardly new and should therefore surprise no one, marks the latest phase of the Syrian tragedy’s descent into the abyss. The facts are extremely shocking and extremely serious. Once again, lethal toxic substances have been used and released from the air. The sordid outcome is now over 100 people killed by asphyxiation, including more than 10 children, and there will undoubtedly be more victims. The symptoms reported by those on site and visible in the images of the attack are not characteristic of chlorine but suggest the use of a much more aggressive substance. This is the most deadly incident of violence since the large-scale attacks by the Syrian regime in August 2013 in Ghouta, where more than 1,000 people have lost their lives.
France, through its highest authorities, has firmly condemned this carnage, which is further proof of the barbarity that has stricken the Syrian population for several years.
While some claim that what occurred was a strike against a chemical weapons depot belonging to the “terrorists”, I would like to recall three simple facts. First, there was no conflagration, while such a strike would have caused a fire whose consequences would have been far more serious for civilians. Secondly, the incident occurred in an area where the Syrian army and air force are currently active; moreover, new strikes were observed in the Idlib area yesterday. Lastly, the responsibility of the Syrian air force has already been irrefutably called into question for the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon at least three times by the conclusions of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, mandated by the Council.
Yesterday’s atrocities, which constitute war crimes, come in addition to new suspicions of chlorine use late last month and the multiple cases reported over several months, in particular in Aleppo in December 2016.
They tragically illustrate the self-destructive folly of the Bashar Al-Assad’s regime that even its supporters — as we have seen today — are unable to prevent, and whose silence is tantamount to endorsing these barbaric acts. This new outbreak of violence confirms that until there is a credible political transition, no one can guarantee the peace and security of the Syrian people or the return to stability in the Middle East. We must therefore set in motion without delay the political transition that the Council sought and approved by unanimously adopting resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/522, annex). That has been France’s position from the very outset.
All light must be shed as soon as possible on the details of this shameful massacre. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) immediately addressed these allegations. My country fully supports the OPCW’s Fact-finding Mission in the Syrian Arab Republic and the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism to enable them to investigate as soon as possible. All allegations of chemical weapons use must be duly investigated and monitored.
But that, of course, is not enough. Those responsible for these attacks answer for their deeds and be brought to justice. It is high time for the international community to put an end to the crimes of the Syrian regime. No political alliance can justify turning a blind eye to mass atrocities, procrastinating, equivocating or diverting the world’s attention to other tragedies — in short, denying the evidence.
Russia, as the guarantor of the ceasefire established on 29 December 2016 and as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a special responsibility that it must now assume, alongside all members of the Council. That is why France, the United Kingdom and the United States have taken the initiative to introduce a draft resolution that we hope will unite the international community around a clear, firm position rejecting the unaccptable.
Faced with evidence of the repeated, methodical and barbaric use of weapons of mass destruction — in this case chemical weapons — against civilian populations, inaction and paralysis cannot be options. Our collective credibility as the guardians of international peace and security and as individual States committed to fighting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is at stake. This is a question of respect for international humanitarian law and our ability to restore a collective norm that has been openly flouted — the ban on the use of chemical weapons against civilian populations, which the international community sought to prohibit for all time almost a century ago.
We have a collective responsibility to protect the chemical non-proliferation regime that had been the subject of a responsible consensus in the Council until now, but which is disintegrating today before our very eyes. The risk is that all the non-proliferation regimes we have patiently built together, day after day, over the recent decades will fall apart with it. The re-emergence of these weapons in Syria, including in the hands of Da’esh, while the international system fails to react sends a signal of impunity that is extremely dangerous and not acceptable. All of Syria’s chemical capacities must be dismantled in order to protect the Syrian people and our collective security.
Out of this fog of uncertainty emerge moments of reality when we can no longer prevaricate or shirk our responsibilities. The very bases of our values, the law and our security are at stake.
As to our values, who would fail to condemn those who have murdered women and children in cold blood and in such abject and horrendous circumstances? Is this not the very negation of civilization in its entirety?
As to the law, the Security Council unanimously agreed to condemn those responsible for these deaths by chemical weapon. What are we waiting for to apply the law that we ourselves helped to formulate?
As to our security, if we close our eyes to the use of chemical weapons against civilians, what legitimacy will we have in future to condemn nuclear terrorism or a potential bacteriological apocalypse? Who will be ready to assume that kind of responsibility in the face of history?
Just a few weeks ago, I called on all of us here to take stock of and assume their responsibilities (see S/PV.7893). Let us make no mistake: the lack of consensus in the Security Council on 28 February to sanction the proven use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime was, unfortunately, a clear signalling of impunity. The despicable massacre in Khan Shaykhun is a terrible reminder of reality and of our responsibility.
The time has therefore come for us to act collectively, with a sense of conscience and all the necessary firmness, in the face of the use of weapons of mass destruction. I would like to express the hope that we can at last join together to reiterate collectively our rejection of the use of chemical weapons. The world is watching us — and in particular watching those who would protect an indefensible regime, and who would be complicit for this most heinous crime.