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Nearly 8 Years On, ‘Gaps, Inconsistencies, Discrepancies’ Remain Over Syria Chemical Weapons Declaration

The Security Council heard new evidence in longstanding international efforts to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons programme on Thursday, including the results of an investigation into the possible of use of chlorine gas in the city of Saraqib in 2018, as the UN’s top disarmament official provided her regular briefing to ambassadors.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, updated members on recent developments in the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Syria. Those efforts were first mandated by the Council in resolution 2118 (2013), which explicitly called for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

As of May 2021, she said, outstanding gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies remain in those efforts, meaning that Syria’s declaration to the OPCW cannot be considered accurate and complete.

New findings

Ms. Nakamitsu outlined several recent findings. One was the detection of a chemical warfare agent – found in samples collected in late 2020 from several large volume containers – whose production had not been previously declared.

According to the OPCW, she said, explanations provided by Syria regarding the contents of the samples “are not sufficient to explain the results”, and the chemical’s presence may imply undeclared production activities.

The OPCW has opened a new outstanding issue on that matter, which will be discussed during the next round of its Declarations Assessment Team’s consultations, in mid-May.

Chlorine attack

Ms. Nakamitsu also relayed the findings of an investigation carried out by the OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team into incidents in the city of Saraqib, on 4 February 2018.

At the time, the OPCW concluded that chlorine released from cylinders “was likely used as a chemical weapon” in Saraqib’s Al Talil neighbourhood.

Providing further information on Wednesday, Ms. Nakamitsu said the OPCW’s recent investigation concluded that “reasonable grounds” exist to believe that a military helicopter belonging to the Syrian Arab Air Force dropped at least one cylinder into the city on that date, releasing toxic chlorine gas.

‘Concerning’ gaps

Describing the number of outstanding issues in the OPCW Syria portfolio as “concerning,” Ms. Nakamitsu reiterated her call on Damascus to fully cooperate with the OPCW.

She warned that all perpetrators must be held accountable, adding that the global community cannot tolerate impunity for those who use weapons outlawed globally for nearly three decades.

“The confidence of the international community in the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme depends upon these issues being finalized”, she stressed.

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