Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 6, 2023
Thank you, Mr. President, and I thank High Representative Nakamitsu for her briefing.
Last month we listened carefully to the briefings by the Director-General of the OPCW and the Coordinator of the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team, the IIT – on the IIT’s latest attribution report on the deadly chemical weapons attack on Douma in 2018. The Security Council must respond to these findings and take steps to ensure the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2118, as well as seek accountability for the heinous actions perpetrated by the Assad regime.
The steps to do so are clear: As we have discussed repeatedly in this Council, the Syrian regime must comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Resolution 2118. It must credibly account for its chemical weapons and chemical weapons production facilities, and verifiably complete their destruction. Month after month, however, and year after year, the regime has failed to do so.
To address these shortfalls, the Assad regime must permit the full OPCW Declaration and Assessment Team to return to Syria without delay so that it can resume the important mission of conducting inspections and accounting for all the many discrepancies and many omissions associated with the Syrian chemical weapons declaration.
While we welcome news that a limited team visited Damascus in January, this deployment fell short – short of Syria’s obligations under Resolution 2118 to accept personnel designated by the OPCW and to provide them immediate and unfettered access to any and all sites.
Colleagues, it is crucial that we seek accountability for the chemical weapons attacks that the Assad regime has conducted against its own people. We all heard last month the unequivocal assessment from the OPCW that the Syrian air force carried out the 2018 chemical weapons attacks in Douma, killing dozens of men, women, and children, and injuring countless more. As the report noted, Russia controlled the airspace and operated from the same base from which the Syrian Air Force launched the attack. The finding that the Assad regime carried out the attack, unfortunately, was not unique; the OPCW and the UN have found the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its people on nine occasions.
Such clear violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention demand accountability. The United States has already imposed sanctions and visa ineligibilities against more than 300 individuals and entities linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program – we commend other countries that have done the same. We call on other countries to impose similar measures and we urge countries to refrain from normalizing relations with the Syrian regime until there is redress for these and other grave injustices to the people of Syria.
In this regard, we welcome a recent joint statement condemning the regime’s use of chemical weapons issued by the Partnership Against Impunity, a group of 40 nations committed to combating the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone.
The United States will continue to support investigative efforts such as the UN’s International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, which is building case files on violations and abuses in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons, and sharing this information with prosecutors.
The IIIM’s work has already helped lead to convictions of former regime officials in Europe, and we look forward to more investigations and prosecutions – possibly even here in the United States, thanks to the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act that President Biden recently signed into law. Accountability for such heinous acts is the least we can do for the victims of chemical weapons attacks. We have said it too many times in this Council, because we have unfortunately had to – there must be no impunity for the use of chemical weapons.
Mr. President, the Security Council cannot abdicate its responsibility. We must ensure that Syria complies with Resolution 2118, and we call on the Syrian regime to immediately fulfill its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. We urge the Council and all its members to seek accountability on behalf of the victims of these horrific chemical weapons attacks. The stakes are simply too high for all of us to do otherwise.
Thank you, Mr. President.