Syrian regime evades convictions by trying to “close the chemical file”
Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa
The Permanent Representative of the Syrian regime to the United Nations spoke during his most recent speech regarding the chemical file in Syria about the regime’s intention to close it, citing his government’s “cooperation” with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This raises questions about the seriousness of this proposal and the reason for announcing it.
During a UN Security Council session on 5 January, the Permanent Representative, Bassam Sabbagh, said that “Syria’s continued cooperation with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is to close its chemical file,” reiterating his call on member states to deal with this file “without jumping into conclusions,” and also on the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat to adopt “professionalism and impartiality.”
According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), quoting Sabbagh, the closure of Syria’s chemical file is hampered by “the skepticism and denial practices of some Western countries in the service of their own political agendas.” He noted that the regime’s “responsible behavior and its positive interaction” with the OPCW prove that it has nothing to hide.
In the same session, the Deputy to the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Adedeji Ebo, announced the OPCW’s intention to send a “reduced team” to visit Syria between the 17th and 22nd of this month.
The Syrian regime agreed to the Technical Secretariat’s request about sending a reduced team comprising members of the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team to conduct limited in-country activities in Syria without specifying such activities but requested “supplementary information” in order to make arrangements to “facilitate this task.”
The regime previously disrupted the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team’s visits, requesting that one person be exempted from the team and refusing to grant them a visa.
The Deputy to the High Representative stressed the need for Damascus to cooperate “fully” with the OPCW Technical Secretariat to address gaps and discrepancies that remain unresolved.
Seeing that the regime did not forward the information that the organization continuously requested about 20 currently pending cases, the regime’s declaration cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, said the aforementioned UN official.
Head of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), Fadel Abdul Ghany, told Enab Baladi that the closure of the chemical file is not a matter of talk only, as there are still incidents that are still being investigated and that if the regime did cooperate effectively, more of its violations would be unraveled.
According to Abdul Ghany, the regime delegation’s statements cannot be taken seriously; cooperation leading to the closure of the file requires investigating the rest of the outstanding incidents, giving the chain of command, acknowledgment and holding accountable those involved in proven incidents, and answering any questions posed by the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team, which the regime cannot implement.
This year, OPCW is planning the next round of inspections of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) in Barzeh and Jamraya without setting a specific date.
The regime has not yet provided technical information or explanations that would enable the OPCW Technical Secretariat to close the case concerning the detection of a chemical substance in Barzeh’s facilities and the unauthorized movement of the two cylinders associated with the chemical weapons incident that occurred in April 2018.
The head of Syria’s Chemical Weapons Victims Association, Salim Nammour, agrees with Abdul Ghany, deeming the regime delegation’s statements a “charade”; he told Enab Baladi that the regime wishes to close the file without responsibilities or criminal charges against it.
Nammour based his expression of the regime’s loss of credibility on what occurred when the OPCW announced the destruction of its stockpile of chemical weapons in April 2016, but the regime used these weapons again in its attacks after that announcement in 2017 and 2018.
The OPCW’s announcement early this year that a reduced team would be sent to Syria follows UN complaints about the Syrian regime’s procrastination, summarized by UN Security Council sessions in 2022 on the implementation of Resolution 2118 on the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons material.
Despite nine OPCW sessions held to cover the developments of the file, the report read out by the High Representative for Chemical Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, is similar every time, with no progress being made on the part of the Syrian regime.
On the decision to send the reduced team and the regime’s approval of its entry into the country, the head of Syria’s Chemical Weapons Victims Association, Salim Nammour, stated that the issue of commissions and teams enables an understanding of the regime’s handling of the matter, which is similar to how criminals would continue to obstruct the course of the investigation until they reach the persons who could acquit them or cover up the crime.
Nammour described the policy pursued by the regime and Russia since 2013, when Resolution 2118 was issued, as a “policy or mechanism of obstruction.” It began to obstruct the formation of committees, and if they are formed, their entry into the country is hindered, and if they enter, their reports are impeded, and if they are issued, the implementation of the reports through the Security Council is impeded.
In Nammour’s view, when international pressure increases, the regime facilitates the OPCW’s procedures by one step and then obstructs the next in accordance with the same obstruction mechanism. At worst, Russia wields its veto.
In turn, the head of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), Fadel Abdul Ghany, believes that the regime is condemned at every Security Council session in which OPCW declares its lack of cooperation with its requests.
Abdul Ghany believes that these repeated convictions put pressure on the regime to “bow” to the admission of the reduced team and that the delay and obstruction with which the regime operated and forcibly prevented the investigation team’s entry was a violation of international law.
“Shocking” Emirati statement
The most recent briefing by the Deputy to the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Adedeji Ebo, prompted a number of states to respond. The statement of the official spokesperson for the UAE Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Shahad Matar, was considered “shocking and unfortunate.”
Matar noted that “any significant progress in the chemical file requires engagement in constructive dialogue,” stressing the importance of communication and dialogue between the OPCW and Damascus. She called on all parties to “act in a spirit based on the principles on which the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was established, including consensus and non-politicization.”
Matar said, “The Syrian chemical file remains, unfortunately, one of the most politicized files in this council, which we observed during the first half of our membership in the Security Council.”
“The UAE’s unwavering rejection and condemnation of the use of chemical weapons, under any circumstances, by anyone, anywhere,” the spokesperson said, considering that their use constituted a “flagrant violation” of the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention and international law.
Head of SNHR, Fadel Abdul Ghany, believes that the UAE speech “was unfortunate,” warning that any state trying to exonerate the regime convicted by United Nations bodies of using chemical weapons would make it an accomplice.
The Emirati speech that Abdul Ghany described as “gray” is closer to the Russian discourse than the truth and reality proved by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The head of Syria’s Chemical Victims Association, Salim Nammour, called the UAE speech “shocking.” In his view, the politicization mentioned by the spokesperson for the UAE Permanent Mission to the UN would have been more appropriate in referring to the regime’s obstruction of the formation of committees and the use of Russian veto in a moral and criminal matter such as the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Nammour added that what actually shields the regime from being held accountable until this moment is the “politicization” followed in this case by the regime and Russia on the one hand, and the international “hiding” behind the Russian “veto” on the other hand, in exchange for achieving international justice.
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