Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 28, 2022
Thank you, High Representative Nakamitsu, for your briefing.
We are presented, yet again, through reports by OPCW experts, with more incontrovertible evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria. These reports are, of course, alarming.
They capture the true human tragedy that lays behind those horrific acts. Many witnesses interviewed by OPCW experts were poisoned by direct exposure to chemical weapons; others were exposed while caring for the injured. It is difficult to comprehend the terror they must have experienced: terror the Assad regime and ISIS clearly intended to cause by deploying these illegal and immoral weapons throughout the conflict.
Per its mandate, the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission did not, in these two reports, identify the perpetrators of these chemical weapons attacks. This is a task that falls within the purview of the OPCW attribution mechanism, the Investigation and Identification Team.
We expect the Investigation and Identification Team will seize itself of this matter and carry out the follow-up attribution work with the same independence and professionalism that it, as well as the Fact-Finding Mission, have demonstrated throughout their mandates.
In the meantime, however, based on the chemicals identified by the Fact-Finding Mission and previous incident reports from both the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, and the Investigation and Identification Team, we can infer who is responsible.
In Marea, the Fact-Finding Mission concluded that sulfur mustard was used. This chemical was previously independently identified by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism as having been used by ISIS a couple weeks prior, also in Marea.
In Kafr Zeita, the Fact-Finding Mission concluded that a chlorine barrel bomb was used. Both the Joint Investigative Mechanism and the Investigation and Identification Team have attributed other aerial chlorine barrel bomb attacks to the Assad regime, the only party to the Syrian conflict known to have access to air assets.
These reports describe careful interviews of dozens of witnesses who provided detailed and consistent accounts of the incidents – accounts that were subsequently corroborated by physical evidence and scientific analysis including x-rays, mechanical engineering analysis, ballistics, metallurgy tests, and meteorological modeling.
The proficiency, impartiality, and thoroughness demonstrated in these reports dispels any misguided suggestions that the OPCW staff, be it the Fact-Finding Mission, the OPCW Declaration Assessment team, or the Investigation and Identification Team, somehow lack the professionalism, expertise, or integrity to carry out credible work or are in any way biased towards a particular party to the conflict.
The United States sees attempts by the Assad regime and its allies to impugn the integrity and capability of the OPCW and its staff as part of a deliberate and frankly desperate campaign to distract us from the human tragedy the Assad regime has caused and from the fact that it has flouted its obligations under both the Chemical Weapons Convention and UNSCR 2118. Indeed, the disinformation narratives issued by Russia today, are but a continuing disturbingly misguided effort to shield a regime which has used weapons of mass destruction against its people. But as we have said before, no amount of disinformation espoused by Syria or its Russian enablers can negate or diminish the credibility of the substantial body of evidence that has been presented to this Council by the OPCW.
Unfortunately, as the latest report of the OPCW Director General highlights, the strategy of systematic obstruction and obfuscation under the guise of cursory cooperation executed by the regime and its enablers continues to this day. In fact, it intensifies.
The latest DG report notes the Syrian regime continues to fail to turn over evidence to corroborate its claim that two chlorine cylinders related to the April 2018 chemical weapons attack in Douma were destroyed in a June 2021 airstrike.
Nor has the regime provided any explanation why those chlorine cylinders were moved from their previous location to the site of the airstrike despite explicit instructions from the OPCW Secretariat not to move or alter the containers without consent of the OPCW.
The report also notes the regime has yet to issue visas to the entire Declaration Assessment Team, delaying the holding of the 25th meeting between the Declaration Assessment Team and the regime by nine months and counting.
The United States continues to fully support the work of the OPCW, including through the Fact-Finding Mission, the Declaration Assessment Team, and the Investigation and Identification Team, to perform a thorough and impartial evaluation and analysis of the regime’s chemical weapons program and suspected chemical weapons use.
We, again, call on Syria to comply with its obligations under resolution 2118, to cease obstructing the work of the OPCW, and to end its continued assault on the Syrian people. And we call on our fellow Council members to stand united against Syria’s chemical weapons use. Thank you.