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Following Three Draft Texts on Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria, Security Council Fails to Agree upon Independent Investigative Mechanism

The Security Council, voting today on three separate draft resolutions in response to recent allegations of a chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma, failed to rally the votes needed to launch an “independent mechanism of investigation” into the incident, as delegates voiced frustration over the continued paralysis and the expanding rifts between nations.

By the terms of a draft resolution submitted by the United States — which was not adopted, following a vote of 12 in favour to 2 against (Bolivia, Russian Federation) with 1 abstention (China), owing to a veto by the Russian Federation — the Council would have established the United Nations independent mechanism for an initial period of one year.  It would have requested the Secretary-General to make recommendations about the mechanism including its terms of reference, based on the principles of impartiality, independence and professionalism, to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Condemning the use of such weapons in the strongest terms, the Council would also have expressed full support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission, which was already investigating the Douma incident.  It would have called on all parties in Syria to fully cooperate with both investigations and allow them immediate, unfettered, safe and secure access to all relevant witnesses, evidence, reporting, materials and sites.

The representative of the United States, taking the floor following the text’s rejection, said her delegation had conducted transparent negotiations when drafting it and had gone “the extra mile” in incorporating the views of the Russian Federation.  Providing for unhindered humanitarian access and establishing the independent mechanism of investigation was the “bare minimum” that the Council could do for the people of Syria, she stressed, declaring:  “At a certain point, you’re either for an impartial, independent investigation, or you’re not.”

The representative of the Russian Federation, also speaking following its veto, said the United States was attempting to mislead the international community.  The draft would have been an attempt to recreate the Joint Investigative Mechanism — whose mandate had not been renewed in late 2017 — which had become a puppet of anti-Damascus forces and shamed itself by rendering a guilty verdict against a sovereign State with no evidence.  The new mechanism, as proposed by the United States, would carry out an investigation with no regard to the standards set out in the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said.

The Council then proceeded to vote on a competing draft submitted by the Russian Federation, also rejecting it, by a recorded vote of 6 in favour (Bolivia, China, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation) to 7 against (France, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States), with 2 abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait).

By the terms of that text, the Council would have established a United Nations independent mechanism of investigation, also for an initial period of one year, and urged it to fully ensure a truly impartial, independent, professional and credible way to conduct its investigation.  It would have further directed the mechanism to make full use of all credible, verified and corroborated evidence collected by the OPCW fact-finding mission, while also directing it to collect and examine additional information and sources not obtained or prepared by the mission, including all information provided by the Government of Syria and others on the activities of non-State actors.

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking after that vote, described the Russian Federation’s draft as a “distraction” and noted that its sponsor had sought no input from other delegations.  It was inappropriate to set up any “quasi-judicial” investigation, she stressed, adding that the text also applied a selective approach to the OPCW parameters.  Above all, the draft was unacceptable because it sought to assert that sovereign States were above international law.  “This is breath-taking in its arrogance and its ignorance,” she emphasized.

Sweden’s representative expressed regret that the Council had failed to establish a mechanism to investigate — and ensure accountability for — alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.  Reiterating that “we will not give up” in that quest, he called on Council members to join together to condemn the use of any chemical weapons and fully back the OPCW fact-finding mission as a critical first step, to be followed by the attribution of guilt and prosecution of those responsible.  “The credibility of this Council is at stake,” he stressed.

Following the failure of the Russian Federation’s text, that same delegation tabled a third draft resolution, which was shorter than the previous two.  In contrast to those texts, the third contained no proposal to establish an independent mechanism of investigation.  By its terms, the Council would reiterate its condemnation in the strongest terms of any use of any toxic chemical as a weapon in Syria, express its alarm at allegations of the use of such substances in Douma on 7 April, and express its full support to the OPCW fact-finding mission.

Following a suspension during which Council members held consultations on that draft, delegates ultimately failed to adopt it by a vote of 5 in favour (Bolivia, China, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation) to 4 against (France, Poland, United Kingdom, United States), with 6 abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden).

The representative of Equatorial Guinea, speaking following the vote, said his delegation had abstained because the draft had been unsatisfactory, while also having been submitted too late.  Expressing frustration that, once again, nothing had been adopted, he hoped the Council would return on 11 April to reconsider the issue.

Syria’s representative, speaking at the close of the meeting, emphasized that his Government had officially invited OPCW to send its fact-finding mission to investigate.  Syria would fully cooperate and provide access to a liberated Douma, he said.  Criticizing the positions of the United States, United Kingdom and France, he said that some permanent Council members were attempting to cover up domestic crises and conflicts among their political elites.  After seven years of “filthy terrorist war” in Syria, the choice was clear, he said.  The Council should stand up to lies, conscious that international public opinion would be judging its ability to safeguard the world.