Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

Ambassador Nikki Haley
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
April 4, 2018


Thank you, Mr. President. We want to congratulate you and your team from Peru for having the presidency this month. The United States stands ready to support you in every way possible. And thank you, Mr. Markram, for your briefing.

We often talk about chemical weapons. But I worry we sometimes lose sight to the human side of these attacks. I want to begin by giving insight into what these attacks are like for people actually on the ground experiencing them.

We have two different accounts. Here is the first account: “Something hit me on the head…I was dazed, knocked down. I got several breaths of the strong solution from the shell. My eyes were running water and burning, so was my nose, and I could hardly breathe. I gasped, choked, and felt the extreme terror of a man who goes under water.”

Second Account: “The situation is more desperate than I can describe. There are no words. It was like Judgment Day, the Apocalypse. You just can’t even describe the scene, can’t even begin to scratch the surface of explaining what happened. We didn’t have any protective equipment for gas.”

The first account comes from the diary of American soldier Stull Holt. He was gassed on the World War I battlefield of Verdun, France in 1917. The second comes from a doctor named Mamoun Morad. He was one of the only doctors on duty in a small Syrian town called Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017.

One hundred years passed between what Lieutenant Holt experienced and what Dr. Morad experienced. But the horror and the terror of seeing chemical weapons used is exactly the same. Chemical weapons were used for the first time in World War I. But in the decades that followed, an international consensus grew. The world saw the unique, destructive power of these weapons and rightly turned away in disgust.

As early as 1925, the Geneva Protocol banned the use of chemical weapons in armed conflict. Decades later, the Chemical Weapons Convention banned their production, stockpile, and use. It was an unambiguous ban. And we dared to believe that chemical weapons would one day be something that we would only read about in the history books. We dared to believe that we could banish the threat forever.

Then came Syria. The Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people. In 2013, the world reacted with horror at pictures of hundreds of men, women, and children dead from the regime’s use of sarin on the outskirts of Damascus.

But even though we disagreed about almost every aspect of this war, once again we found consensus on chemical weapons. Our shared disgust led us to act together. In 2013, we passed Resolution 2118 mandating the destruction of the Assad regime’s arsenal of chemical weapons.

Then in 2015, we created the Joint Investigative Mechanism so we would know the identity of anyone who used chemical weapons in Syria. The UN found definitively that the Assad regime, as well as ISIS, were responsible. Once again, we dared to believe that despite all of our differences in Syria, the consensus against the use of chemical weapons by anyone would hold. But, of course, we know what happened next.

The Assad regime continued using chemical weapons against the Syrian people. One member of this Council shielded the Assad regime from any consequences, then blocked us from renewing the Joint Investigative Mechanism. Our consensus broke down.

The world today is a far more dangerous place because of it. The Assad regime keeps dropping chlorine bombs on innocent men, women, and children. Just these past few weeks, when the regime seized eastern Ghouta, there were credible reports of chlorine gas attacks.

It’s a sad fact, just a few years ago, a single chemical weapons attack would have united us in shock and anger. It would have been enough for us to take immediate action. Now, we have a regime that uses chemical weapons practically every other week. Our lack of action has consequences. When we let one regime off the hook, others take notice. The use of nerve agents in Salisbury and Kuala Lumpur proves this point and reveals a dangerous trend.

We are rapidly sliding backward, crossing back into a world that we thought we left. No one wants to live in a world where chemical weapons are used. No one wants to live in fear that a colorless, shapeless gas will suddenly seep into our lungs and leave us gasping for air. If we do not act, if we do not stop and change course, this is the world we could be fast approaching.

Even as the Security Council has remained deadlocked, some have stood up to demand accountability for the use of chemical weapons. The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the creation of the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism on crimes committed in Syria, which is collecting evidence for future prosecutions. The United States also fully supports France’s International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. These efforts are vital.

But we must not forget that while we sit here debating chemical weapons, there are people on the front lines in Syria who are facing the terrifying reality of those heinous weapons. People like Dr. Mamoun Morad, the doctor I mentioned earlier who was on duty in Khan Sheikhoun one year ago. That was the place where the Assad regime used sarin gas in an attack that killed nearly 100 people and injured over 500 others. Dr. Morad is a humanitarian. He saw that his countrymen were in need, and he risked everything, including his own life, to help save others.

Dr. Morad is no stranger to working under the toughest of circumstances. In 2015, the hospital where he was working was hit by a missile. Still, he kept saving lives. In 2016, Dr. Morad ran out the door of a hospital hit by an airstrike, only to see the building completely destroyed by another strike that hit moments later. Still, he kept saving lives. In 2017, a missile hit the entrance of the clinic where he worked. He was hit by debris. Still, he kept saving lives. On April 4, 2017, Dr. Morad saw the warplanes over Khan Sheikhoun just after leaving the town’s hospital. And Dr. Morad did what he’s always done. He told his driver to turn around and go back. What Dr. Morad saw was a living hell. One after another, the victims of the sarin attack kept coming.

He recalls, “A boy arrived gasping for breath, with foam coming out of his mouth and with pinpoint pupils. We washed the boy. We washed and we washed and we washed. We gave him what treatment we could and tried to resuscitate him, but he didn’t make it.” Even as Dr. Morad felt himself being contaminated by sarin, he did not stop. Dr. Morad was just one person, with almost no staff. The hospital had almost no medicine, and much of what was left had been expired for years. But Dr. Morad did not stop. He did whatever he could to revive the unconscious, to clean off the toxic chemicals from their bodies before they died. He never stopped trying to save lives.

Dr. Morad is a hero. And he has made the journey to be with us today. Dr. Morad, please stand up. Dr. Morad, we salute you for your bravery, for your courage, and your determination to help any Syrian who is in need. Dr. Morad is here today to be an inspiration to all of us. He works to save lives of the Syrian people even after living through missile attacks and airstrikes, even after being gassed at Khan Sheikhoun. Dr. Morad does not stop. He does not give up. And if he’s not going to stop, we must not stop.

We must not stop working to rid this world of chemical weapons and holding account anyone, anywhere who uses them. We have done this before. We have committed to a world without chemical weapons. We have signed the treaties banning them. We have destroyed stockpiles. We have launched truly independent and impartial investigations to know who is responsible for using them.

As Dr. Morad once said, “I don’t care about politics.” What he wants is for the world to speak out about the suffering of the Syrian people and for us to do our jobs and make the suffering stop. We owe him, and the Syrian people, that much.

On April 4, 2017, the people of Khan Sheikhoun suffered an unspeakable tragedy. On this, April 4, 2018, let us reflect on this tragedy. Let us remember what Dr. Morad witnessed. And let us use this meeting as the start of a renewed partnership and a renewed commitment to put an end to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We have done it before.

Even with all of the profound divisions on this Council, the United States refuses to believe that we cannot come together once again to stop chemical weapons. Not just to protect the Syrian people, but to protect us all.

Thank you.