Will Perpetrators of Syria Chemical Attacks be Identified?

August 6, 2015  

The United States and Russia have reached agreement on a draft UN resolution aimed at identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria so they can be brought to justice, two Security Council diplomats told The Associated Press (AP) on Wednesday.

The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private, told the news agency the final draft has been circulated to all 15 Security Council members. They have until 10:00 a.m. EDT on Thursday to raise objections, one diplomat said.

If there are no objections to the text, one diplomat said the resolution could be put to a vote as early as Friday.

While Russia and the United States have failed to agree on a way to end the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, they did agree on eliminating its chemical weapons stockpile.

The U.S. has been pressing for the council to take action to ensure accountability for an increasing number of alleged chlorine attacks that have caused deaths and injuries. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said in June the council should look for the best way to ensure that people allegedly responsible for chlorine attacks are brought before a court.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global chemical weapons watchdog, has a mandate to carry out fact-finding missions to determine whether there have been chemical attacks. Neither the OPCW nor the UN, however, have a mandate to determine responsibility for the use of chlorine or chemical weapons.

According to one council diplomat who spoke to AP, the final draft submitted Wednesday asks UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in coordination with OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu, to submit to the Security Council within 20 days recommendations to establish an “OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism.”

It says this investigative body will identify “to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical” in Syria, in instances where an OPCW fact-finding mission determines or has determined that an incident involved or likely involved the use of chemicals weapons.

U.S. and Russian diplomats have been meeting at the U.N. on the text of the resolution and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the need to address the “possession and potential use of chemical weapons” by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday, a senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry in Malaysia told AP.

Following a chemical weapon attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of civilians on Aug. 21, 2013 a U.S.-Russian agreement led to a Security Council resolution the following month ordering the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, precursors, and the equipment to produce the deadly agents.

A joint mission between the UN and the OPCW was then tasked with eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program, and the government of President Bashar Al-Assad last year handed over 1,300 tons of chemical arms.

But diplomats recently said that international inspectors had found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at a military research site in Syria that had not been declared to the OPCW, despite Syria’s pledge to do so.

In addition, there were several reports of chlorine gas attacks in Syria, and the OPCW later released a report in which it concluded “with a  high degree of confidence” that chlorine gas had been used in attacks on three villages in Syria last year.

Britain, France and the United States have repeatedly accused the Assad regime of carrying out the chlorine attacks by using barrel bombs thrown from helicopters, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned the Bashar Al-Assad regime it would be held to account for using chlorine gas against civilians.

In March, the Security Council approved a U.S.-drafted resolution that condemns the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria, and threatens further measures including sanctions in the case of violations.

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