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Work still remains on Syria chemical weapons destruction, Security Council hears

Thomas Markram with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) updated ambassadors on the latest developments under a September 2013 Council resolution on the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons programme. 

Resolution 2118 calls for Syria to cooperate with UN partner, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and allow access to its territory. 

Prevent these threats 

Nearly eight years later, “there is still work to be done” before the resolution can be considered fully implemented, said Mr. Markram, who is the Deputy to the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. 

“Moreover, as long as the use of chemical weapons continues, or the threat of their use remains, we must retain our focus on preventing these threats”, he added.  

“Unity in the Security Council is required to re-establish the norm against chemical weapons. The use of these weapons must always be seen as a clear violation of a deeply-held taboo. Accordingly, the identification and accountability of those responsible is imperative”. 

UNODA maintains regular contact with OPCW, whose deployments to Syria have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gaps and inconsistencies 

Mr. Markram said that the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team (DAT), which engages with the Syrian authorities, was supposed to travel there in May for the latest round of consultations.  However, “in the absence of a response”, the visit was postponed.  

“As a result of the identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved, the OPCW Technical Secretariat continues to assess that, at this stage, the declaration submitted by the Syrian Arab Republic cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention”, Mr. Markram told the Council. 

“I reiterate my call to the Syrian Arab Republic to extend its full cooperation to the OPCW Technical Secretariat to resolve all outstanding issues. As noted on many prior occasions, the confidence of the international community in the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme depends on these issues being finalized”. 

Attack on military facility 

Mr. Markram told the Council that last month Syria wrote to the OPCW to report an attack on 8 June against a military installation that housed a declared former chemical weapons production facility. 

Following a request for further information, Syria further reported that two chlorine cylinders related to an April 2018 chemical weapons incident in the city Douma were destroyed. 

In responding, Mr. Markram said that the OPCW recalled that the cylinders had last been inspected in November 2020.  While the inspection team was mandated to transport the cylinders to OPCW Headquarters in The Netherlands, Syria said they could not be shipped outside the country. 

“The OPCW Secretariat recalled that the cylinders were stored and inspected at another declared site approximately 60 kilometres from the location at which they had been reportedly destroyed on 8 June 2021”, he said.  

The UN official added that the OPCW Secretariat also previously advised that Syria was not to open, move, or alter the containers, or their contents, without prior written consent. 

“I understand that the Syrian National Authority did not notify the OPCW Secretariat that the cylinders had been moved to a new location until it reported their destruction”, said Mr. Markram.  

“Accordingly, in its note verbale dated 15 July 2021, the OPCW Secretariat requested Syria to provide all relevant information regarding the movement of the two cylinders and any remains of their destruction”.

Thomas Markram, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the Security Council.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Thomas Markram, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the Security Council.

Fact-Finding Mission 

Meanwhile, an OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) continues its engagement with Syria, Mr. Markram continued, though noting that further deployments will depend on the evolution of the pandemic. 

He added that the Investigation and Identification Team, which identifies perpetrators of chemical weapons use in Syria, released their second report in April. 

These experts investigate incidents in which the FFM determines chemical weapons were used, or likely used, he explained, and will issue further reports, again depending on the pandemic.  

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