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UN fails to agree on response to report on chemical weapons in Syria

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power says

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power says a report into which combatants launched chemical weapons in Syria in 2014 and 2015 was a call to action for the UN Security Council. July 20, 2015 Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Jewel Samad

A long-awaited expert report into which combatants launched chemical weapons in Syria in 2014 and 2015 blames the Syrian government forces for two attacks and the Islamic State for another. But the 93-page report failed to bring the divided UN Security Council to agreement on what to do in response to the findings.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism of the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons released its third report on an investigation into allegations into the use of chlorine, sarin or mustard gas on up to nine occasions during the war in Syria. For the first time, it identified actors it believes were responsible.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said the report was a call to action for the UN Security Council, while Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, said it was flawed and that no conclusions could be drawn.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, frowned upon implementing sanctions that could be enforced through military action based on the report.

“Clearly there is a smoking gun,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “We know that chlorine most likely has been used — that was already the finding of the fact-finding mission before — but there are no fingerprints on the gun,” Churkin said. “There is nobody to sanction in the report which has been issued. . . . It contains no names, it contains no specifics. . . . If we are to be professional, we need to question all the conclusions.”

The Joint Investigative Mission was empowered by a 2015 Security Council resolution to go beyond what was already accepted as fact based on a previous expert panel’s research: that forces were using chemical weapons — a violation of international law — in Syria’s bloody, five-year civil war.

“I wish to note that the Leadership Panel is acutely aware of the ongoing use of chemicals as weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic,” said Virginia Gamba, head of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, after briefing the 15 members of the UN Security Council at headquarters in Manhattan.

“We also note with great concern that there is a diversification of both the type of chemicals used and the actors involved,” she added in a statement. “We cannot allow chemical weapons to become the norm of the already unspeakable conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic or anywhere else. The perpetrators must be identified and held accountable to deter such actions in the future. It is the Panel’s hope that the results of the Mechanism’s investigation will contribute to this process.”

The group of experts found it could not confirm the sources of six other attacks under its purview because results on the origin of the chemicals was inconclusive, it said in the report.

They found that an attack in Talmenes on April 21, 2014, and in Sarmin on March 15, 2015, were carried out by the Syrian Air Force.

But in an attack in Marea on Aug. 21, 2015, “the Panel concluded that there is sufficient information to conclude that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was the only entity with the ability, capability, motive and the means to use sulfur mustard in this attack which released toxic substances,” Gamba said.

“It’s a landmark report,” Power said. “It is the first official, independent confirmation of what many of us have alleged for a long time, many of us have presented substantial evidence of for a long time, and that is a pattern of chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime. . . . It is extremely important that the Council move swiftly to ensure that anybody who would perpetrate this crime, anybody who would erode decades — nearly a century of progress — in building an international norm, would pay a price.”

But Ja’afari said “The conclusions reached by the JIM report cannot be considered corroborating truths,” speaking outside the Security Council chamber and calling for more research into the attacks. “We need to know, genuinely speaking, the truth, without any politicization, without any manipulation of these incidents for political purposes.”


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