Syria : the use of chemical weapons threatens our collective security [fr]
Syria/chemical weapons - Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 4 April 2018
I thank the Peruvian presidency for holding this important meeting and Mr. Thomas Markram for his very insightful briefing. I would also like to welcome Dr. Mamoun Morad to our meeting.
I shall raise three points today on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, its importance with respect to non-proliferation and our collective security, and the imperative of the fight against impunity.
The chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun that took place one year ago to the day marked a new and horrific stage in the plunge into the hell of the Syrian tragedy. On 4 April 2017, with the use of sarin gas, the Syrian regime revealed to the world its determination to crush its opponents and its people by every means possible, and to that end did not hesitate to use the most terrifying weapons of destruction.
One year later, the violence continues in Syria and the Syrian regime has not stopped using chemical weapons, which almost a century ago the international community resolved to ban forever and which the Syrian regime itself had committed not to use. Its responsibility has been established publicly and unambiguously by the mechanisms we created together to determine responsibilities. No attempt to discredit and consign to oblivion the clear conclusions reached by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) can change that reality. No one can claim that they did not know.
I would remind those who seek to refute the responsibility of the Syrian regime that it is not possible at present to confirm that Syria declared all its stocks and capacities in 2013. The ongoing use of chemical weapons in Syria is an indisputable indication that stockpiles of sarin and chlorine indeed exist.
Two things are clear — either Syria lied as it assumed its obligations or it carried out a secret programme in breach of those obligations. Of course, a combination of those two theories cannot be ruled out. Therefore, we can only reiterate our call on the Syrian regime to respond to all of the many unanswered questions. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspection teams are rigorous and professional in carrying our their mission and have been commended by all States. We take note of the information provided with regard to the upcoming destruction of Syria’s last declared chemical weapons productions facilities and reiterate our full support to the OPCW.
The use of chemical weapons by anyone in any circumstances violates the universal conscience and the most basic norms of international law. Make no mistake — the use of chemical weapons poses a potentially lethal threat to the sustainability of the international chemical non-proliferation regime. That regime is one of the most developed and successful of all the international non-proliferation regimes. Allowing it to fracture without taking action would be tantamount to endorsing the decline of the entire international regime for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which we built together over several decades, step by step, and which is the backbone of the international security architecture and one of the key achievements of multilateralism.
Allowing those who have contributed to the re-emergence of such weapons to go unpunished breaks the taboo surrounding their use and promotes their proliferation. Regrettably, the use of a military-grade neurotoxin on British soil just a month ago confirms that our concerns are warranted. A taboo has been broken in Syria, Salisbury and elsewhere. It poses a direct threat to one of the key tenets of our collective security. It is therefore urgent that we all reaffirm and consolidate the absolute ban of such substances.
If we wish to return to a complete prohibition of chemical weapons, we cannot allow those who use them to go unpunished. If we want to reaffirm and strengthen the taboo against the use of chemical weapons, impunity cannot be a moral or political option. The use of chemical weapons against civilians is a war crime and even a crime against humanity. Those responsible must answer for their actions. The issue of determining responsibility cannot be overlooked.
Evidence has been collected, in particular by the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic, established by the General Assembly and tasked with facilitating investigations into the most serious crimes committed in Syria. Such evidence will be preserved and used in national and international legal proceedings because, without justice for the victims, there will be no lasting peace in Syria. Justice must be a separate dimension in all political solutions, pursuant to resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué (S/2012/522, annex). As I have already stated, although the countries in the Astana process meet in Turkey, Geneva is the only forum that can provide a lasting solution to the conflict.
There is a serious risk of undermining the non-proliferation region if we allow impunity to prevail. That is why we will continue to fully engage in all forums to combat impunity for the use of chemical weapons. It is also for that reason that in January France launched the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. This open and pragmatic partnership brings together States that reject impunity for those involved in chemical attacks or in the development of chemical programmes. It unites all States that are concerned that the non-proliferation regime and strategic stability could be undermined. It was established to support the actions of all international investigative mechanisms and forums. It is a global partnership that applies to all instances of the use of chemical weapons throughout the world and by all actors, State and non-State alike. The partnership is open and all States that abide by its principles are invited to join.
Now that the taboo against the use of such weapons has been broken, there is the risk of such weapons falling into the hands of other actors, in particular non-State actors. I recall that the JIM concluded that mustard gas was used twice by Da’esh. States that refused to punish the perpetrators identified by the JIM or to extend its mandate also squandered an opportunity to send a clear message to terrorists. It is up to all States to protect themselves against terrorist groups and their possible access to weapons of mass destruction.
The issue surrounding the use of chemical weapons affects our core values and security. If there is one area in which the members of the Security Council have the moral and political responsibility to work together and take action, it is this. If there is one area in which the credibility of the Council is at stake and where tactics and games have no place, it is this.
This year, as we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, in which the use of gas in combat had devastating effects, and remember the tragedy of Khan Shaykun, on behalf of France I make an urgent request that we set aside our political differences and end the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We owe it to the civilians who are the primary victims of such weapons. We also owe it to the future of the international non-proliferation regime for chemical weapons, which is one of the keystones of our collective security.