Statement by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen in the Security Council meeting on Syria (chemical weapons), November 5

05.11.2020 - Speech

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I cannot help but start with yesterday's horrible shelling by the Syrian regime of villages in the Idlib area. Eight civilians were killed, thirteen civilians were injured. The UN Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Cutts said that, “Today's violence compounds an already dire situation on the ground in Idlib, where millions of civilians remain in urgent need of lifesaving assistance. COVID-19 continues to spread in the overcrowded camps, the rains have started again and the bitter winter temperatures will soon set in.” The NGO Save the Children reported one girl, aged four, died on her way to school in the town of Ariha, south of Idlib. Two more children were killed in Kafraya and a fourth, a 10 year old boy in the city of Idlib. Dozens of other people were wounded. A primary school in Kafraya, run by a partner of Save the Children, was hit with shelling and shrapnel while around 150 children were in their classrooms. As a consequence, Save the Children suspended the work in two vaccination centers it supports in Idlib. As a result, the delivery of vaccines to children will be impacted, requiring more efforts to follow up with children who had appointments. The centers provide vaccination support for 500 children each month.

Madame Chair,

The Syrian regime bears responsibility for yet another brutal murder of civilians. Supporters of the regime also bear heavy responsibility. Iran and Russia, instead of reigning in the regime and preventing it from killing its own civilians, continue to allow them to do that. Russia and China, by preventing the opening of humanitarian crossing points, also make the very dire situation even worse.

Let me come back to the intervention of Russia. When I listened to it, I thought I was in the wrong movie theater here. There is no crisis of trust in OPCW. As you just heard, one speaker after another supports the OPCW and its work. OPCW enjoys the full trust of the international community with the exception of Russia and its cronies. It is Russia that undermines the credibility of OPCW by continuously shielding the Assad regime. I have not heard one word from the Russian ambassador of regret for the thousands of people that the Assad regime killed with chemical weapons. There is no one who doubts that Assad has done that. You continue to protect Assad and you try to continue to undermine the OPCW.

I've mentioned here before and I would highlight again that Russia was caught red-handed in 2018 when they launched a cyber-attack against the OPCW. I think you should have a serious conversation with your First Committee Representative, because my Deputy was in the First Committee and responded to the attacks that were launched against us. It is in Russia that Mr. Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. We are waiting for Russia to investigate it and provide OPCW with the information that we provided OPCW.

Let me also say that it is a pity that we seem to have added another layer of discussion and division to this complicated file. In addition to providing cover for the Assad regime whenever possible, our Russian colleagues now also feel the need to put into question the format of our regular meetings. We are always ready to discuss which meeting format is best suited to help us achieve our goal to hold Syria accountable and ensure compliance with resolution 2118. But the question of the meeting format and the briefers to invite has become another smokescreen to protect the Assad regime from international scrutiny. In Russia's intervention, while it was criticized that Mr. Fernando Arias, Director-General of OPCW, did not attend today, it forgot to mention that there is a good reason for him to come next month. At the end of the month, as several speakers have underlined, the Conference of State Parties will take place and the meeting after this conference is the right point in time for Mr. Arias to brief the Council.

These are attempts to distract attention from the simple need: to get the Syrian regime to stop the use of chemical weapons against its own citizens once and forever, to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme and to fully cooperate with the OPCW. Unfortunately, Russia is not helping with any of these tasks and is instead devising ever new distractions to make our work more difficult. 

Since we last met, we have received two official communications from the OPCW. One is the 85th monthly report on the implementation of Resolution 2118. So for the 85th time, we have now heard that Syria is stalling and obstructing investigations full stop. And then we have also received a letter on the implementation by Syria on the decision by the OPCW’s Executive Council in The Hague in July. Unfortunately, the analysis is the same: there is no progress. Assad has chosen to ignore the Executive Council decision as he has chosen to ignore resolution 2118 and the CWC. 

And still, we are hearing, time and again, from the Syrian regime and those supporting it that Damascus is in compliance to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This is simply not true. There are facts and there are authorities on chemical weapons – and this is the OPCW. I urge Russia to finally use its considerable influence in Damascus: the Syrian regime must stop the use of chemical weapons against its own citizens for good, fully disclose its chemical weapons programme and fully cooperate with the OPCW. By coming with this text on OPCW week after week, you will not succeed to undermine the winner of the Nobel Prize, a very important stakeholder in the international institutions.

The Assad regime in Syria has killed its own people using chemical weapons. Russia has shielded Assad, including by ending the Joint Investigative Mechanism in 2017, the very mechanism that had been set up to examine the use of such weapons. 

We all have a responsibility to safeguard and support the Chemical Weapons Convention and its guardian, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – a central pillar of the global disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation architecture. 

The re-emergence of chemical weapons, as we have seen them in Syria and in other cases, must not be tolerated. The use of these despicable weapons undermines the international non-proliferation architecture, and we will not accept impunity for those who use or develop toxic agents, regardless of where these agents are being used.

We will continue our efforts to push for accountability. There can only be just and lasting peace in Syria if the perpetrators of these most heinous crimes are brought to justice.

Right of Reply by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen in the Security Council meeting on Syria (chemical weapons), November 5

Vasily [Nebenzya, Permanent Representative of Russia], I must say, I just cannot believe my ears. I would recommend that you look at the “Caesar” photographs of the prisons in Syria. I don't know if you were present here when I quoted from the witness in the Koblenz trial who was responsible for the transport of hundreds of corpses of Syrian civilians. They were buried in mass graves. I'm happy to provide that information to you again.

You have been very careful in not discussing the fact that the Syrian regime has been caught killing its own civilians with chemical weapons. There is no doubt that Syria has used chemical weapons. Even Russia doesn't doubt that.

With regard to Mr. Navalny, this is a typical Russian reaction. I just recall what I mentioned before, Russia's cyber-attack on the OPCW. The timing of this, by the way, was in connection with the Skripal case.

Coming back to Mr. Navalny, in the spirit of full transparency, Germany has shared a shortened version of a classified analysis by the OPCW on the Navalny poisoning with all member states. This version omits any specific details regarding the structural characteristics of the toxic chemical that was used. This approach has been carefully considered and is guided by nonproliferation concerns.

Together with Belgium, Estonia, France and the United Kingdom, we have sent a letter to the Secretary General and to this Council, in which we call on Russia to disclose urgently, fully and in a transparent manner the circumstances of the attack against Mr. Navalny and to inform this Council. Russia has the evidence and medical samples needed for an investigation in its own country. It is therefore upon Russia to launch a full and transparent investigation. You don't want to imply that Mr. Navalny was poisoned in Germany or that he poisoned himself.

So we take note of the Russian announcement to cooperate with the OPCW, we call upon the Russian Federation to authorities to fully cooperate with the OPCW to ensure an impartial international investigation. I urge Russia to stop blaming others, to stop undermining the OPCW, and to finally turn to the reality that the Syrian regime is responsible for mass murder, the Syrian regime is responsible for killing its own population with chemical weapons. The Syrian regime is responsible for yesterday's killing of eight civilians, four of whom were children.

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