The much-awaited report by the United Nations investigative mission on the use of chemical weapons in Syria on Aug. 21 in Ghouta has been handed over to the secretary-general by Ake Sellstrom, the head of the mission; it has not been released to the public yet by the UN but France put it online. In a note from Ban on Sept. 16 regarding the report’s findings, he said that he “expresses his profound shock and regret at the conclusion that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale, resulting in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians and including many children.”
The note continues: “The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons and believes that this act is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare and other relevant rules of customary international law. The international community has a moral responsibility to hold accountable those responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.”
Although the report is to be formally released today, the Jerusalem Post already published some of the text, having quoted it by zooming in on a photo of Ban and Sellstrom with the report. The wording that the Post said it captured read: “On the basis of the evidence obtained during the investigation of the Ghouta incident, the conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic . . . against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale,” the report said.
“In particular the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface to surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used,” it added.
Amid fast-moving events on Syria, late last week the country deposited the formal instrument of accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which will enter into force on Oct. 14, 2013, the UN says, at which point the country must observe the treaty’s obligations.
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to send a resolution to the Security Council for a vote enforcing the dismantling of weapons by Syria were carried out by John Kerry, the United States secretary of state, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, also last week. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League special envoy, has also been working in Geneva with these parties to restart arrangements for a Geneva conference that would find a political solution to the Syrian war, which started in March 2011 and has killed more than 100,000 people and dislodged millions of others.
The road to Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention has been quick, catapulted by American threats to attack the country after chemical weapons were released on Aug. 21, leaving at least 1,400 dead, American officials say. In the last few weeks, the US, aiming to punish Syria and deter its further use of such weapons, said that it would not go through the Security Council for approval to set off a military response. Russia, staunch Syrian allies, then floated the possibility of Syria’s joining the Chemical Weapons Convention to contain and destroy the arsenal, at which point the US began discussions with Russia on the matter, delaying a missile attack.
The French also jumped into the action. With American and British support, France drafted a Security Council resolution last week, authorizing the use of force under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter if Syria refused to comply with handing over its chemical weapons arsenal, which is estimated to hold 1,000 tons of various agents. The Russians, wary of legalizing military force against Syria in a resolution, proposed a nonbinding statement instead, but neither the Russian or French avenue went far and no statement was approved.
Now, last week’s steps to find a diplomatic path to prevent military action by the US has resulted in not only Syria’s acceding to the Chemical Weapons Convention but a new resolution is to be presented to the Security Council by Britain, France and the US, outlining how the Syrian plan to dismantle would be carried out by mid-2014. Russia, however, is likely to veto a plan authorizing the use of force. (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US are all veto-wielding permanent members of the council.)
Much debate has centered on how safely and securely such a stockpile of weapons could be contained and destroyed. Some experts said it could not be done in a civil war like Syria’s, while others were more qualified.
“Normally, dismantlement is done within a country, and purpose-built facilities are constructed near the stockpile to minimize the transportation of dangerous chemical agents. These facilities can take years to construct, and once operational, the destruction process can also take a considerable amount of time – likely many months to dismantle a relatively small arsenal, depending on the agents involved. Any transportation of the agents outside the country would also pose significant security and environmental risks,” Emily Chorley, a chemical weapons analyst at IHS Jane’s and the proliferation editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, said in The New York Times.