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Estonia highlights report on use of chemical weapons in Syria at UNSC meeting

On Tuesday, May 12, a video meeting was held at the UN Security Council on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, and as the current President, Estonia invited Fernando Arias, the Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to be one of the speakers.

On April 8, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), established by the OPCW in 2018, presented its first report. According to the report, there are enough grounds to conclude that the three chemical attacks in Ltamenah in 2017 (on 24, 25 and 30 March) were conducted by the government forces of Syria.

"As the President, we considered it important to provide the Security Council with an overview of the findings of such an important report and to make sure the grounds for their discussions on the chemical attacks carried out in Syria are as accurate as possible. The Security Council has a special role in protecting peace and security and in fighting impunity. It is crucial to give a consistent response to grave violations of international law. This meeting was an example of how the international community has not forgotten what was and is happening in Syria," Estonia's Permanent Representative to the UN Sven Jürgenson said.

After the meeting, European Union members of the Security Council Estonia, Belgium, Germany and France as well as the United Kingdom and former elected member Poland made a joint statement, expressing support for the findings of the report and condemning the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Air Force.

"Impunity for these horrible acts will not be tolerated. It is now up to the International Community to duly consider the report and take appropriate action," the statement says. 

Other briefers in addition to the Director General of the OPCW Fernando Arias were IIT coordinator Santiago Onate and the UN Under-Secretary-General of Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu.

Estonia's full statement

As delivered by Permanent Representative of Estonia to UN Sven Jürgenson

Allow me, first, to thank Ms Nakamitsu and Mr Arias for their briefings. Mr Arias, we very much appreciate your presence today in the Council and the possibility to have a direct exchange of views with you. Your briefing today has been very useful.

I also want to thank Mr Onate and his whole team for their committed work investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Estonia has full trust and confidence in the expertise, impartiality and professionalism of the IIT. We note that the report provides a very detailed, facts-based account about how the attacks were conducted and the purpose they served in Assad's regime war strategy. The volume of evidence and analysis that is provided in the report, is exemplary, leaving no doubt to its conclusions.

The facts that the first report of the IIT has established are of course extremely serious as they confirm that a member state of the United Nations and party to the Chemical Weapons Convention has used chemical weapons against its own people. This conclusion is not a new one. We have been here before. The Joint Investigative Mechanism has determined in four instances that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. The IIT report provides another layer of clear evidence of the repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria.

When the Secretary General shared the IIT report with the Security Council on 15 April, his letter stated that any use of chemical weapons poses a serious threat to international peace and security. Indeed, there will be no lasting peace in Syria while there is impunity and no justice to victims. But the issue goes beyond Syria. The identification of perpetrators and bringing them to justice is necessary in order to maintain the international non-proliferation regime and to prevent further use of chemical weapons.

The IIT report is, hence, particularly important for the Council to meet its responsibilities under the United Nations Charter and the Security Council resolution 2118. We call the Council to speak with one voice to condemn the use of chemical weapons and work towards preventing impunity and ensuring accountability for these heinous crimes.

To conclude, we continue to call on Syria to fully cooperate with the OPCW and all its mechanisms as required under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Security Council resolution 2118. We call on Syria to declare all its chemical weapons and its production facilities, to verifiably destroy all its chemical weapons and engage constructively with DAT, FFM and IIT.


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Editor: Anders Nõmm

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