Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 4, 2021
Thank you to the High Representative for your insightful and thorough briefing this morning. We greatly appreciate your sober analysis and clear calls for accountability.
Colleagues, as I prepared for today’s discussion, I was struck by the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Assad regime. After 10 years of civil war, tens of thousands of innocent civilians are now dead, and far more, far too many of them were slain with Assad’s lethal, horrific chemical weapons.
The use of chemical weapons by any state constitutes an unacceptable threat to every state. We all know and understand this, and the United States remains committed to holding those who use these horrific weapons to account.
We all know the Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons. So why haven’t the Syrian government been held accountable?
The answer is sadly simple: the Assad regime has tried to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and undermining the role and work of the OPCW. And the regime’s ally, in particular Russia, have also sought to block all efforts to pursue accountability.
Russia has defended the Assad regime despite its chemical weapons attacks, it has attacked the professional work of the OPCW, and it has undermined efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons and numerous other atrocities.
The United States firmly supports the impartial and independent work of the OPCW. We recognize their leadership, and we commend the professional manner in which the organization carries out its mission. We eagerly anticipate future reports from the Investigation and Identification Team.
The IIT’s first report – released last April – concluded Syria used chemical weapons in March 2017 during three separate attacks. The OPCW Executive Council, in response, adopted a decision in July of last year asking Syria to take measures to redress the situation. Unsurprisingly, as reported by the OPCW Director-General in October, Syria failed to complete any of the measures set forth in the decision.
Unsurprising, but unacceptable.
In response to this failure to comply, the United States, along with 45 co-sponsors from across the world, have submitted a draft decision to the OPCW Conference of the States Parties. We call upon the Conference to take appropriate action when it reconvenes in April to send an unequivocal message to the Assad’s regime that the use of chemical weapons has real and serious consequences.
Let me remind everyone that we already agreed, as a united Council, to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria. In 2013, the Security Council decided in Resolution 2118 that the Assad regime shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, or retain chemical weapons. The Council further decided that the Assad regime must cooperate fully with the OPCW and the UN.
We must not abandon that decision. The Security Council must ensure that there are serious consequences for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.
The United States supports these and other efforts to hold the Assad regime responsible for the use of chemical weapons and other ongoing atrocities against the Syrian people. The horrific list includes mass detention, torture, and attacks destroying civilian infrastructure.
Accountability will bring long-overdue justice to the victims and their families who need and deserve the international community’s support. Accountability is also vital to build confidence in the broader political process, as called for in Resolution 2254, to bring lasting stability and peace to Syria.
It is time for the Assad regime to uphold its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Resolution 2118. The regime has acted with impunity for far too long.
The truth is, we have obligations too. We have an obligation to hold those who use weapons of mass destruction accountable. We have an obligation to listen to the OPCW, whose integrity is unimpeachable and whose objective, technical expertise does not deserve to be politicized. And most important, we have a global responsibility – a sacred responsibility – to protect our people from the inhumanity of chemical weapons.
Colleagues, very few issues would unite all nations. But the horror of chemical weapons must remain one of them. We cannot let that norm disintegrate. We cannot give up on the dream of a world free from these weapons of mass destruction.
So, we ask that the Security Council unite once more. Let us put aside short-term political calculations. Let us finally put the needs of the Syrian people, and of all people, first. And let us place the use of chemical weapons where it belongs: In the dustbin of history.
Thank you, very much.