Russian position on OPCW-UN JIM report on Syria
The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) has recently presented the UN Security Council with its third report, in which it alleges the Syrian Armed Forces were involved in two uses of chemical weapons in Syria.
While appreciating the significant amount of work done by the JIM and its experts, conclusions drawn by its leadership panel are hardly convincing. It has become obvious that due to objective reasons it had very little chance to conduct an effective investigation. One of the main problems was lack of access to the locations due to the dire security situation on the ground.
There are also other factors that have seriously affected the quality of the investigation, including it being carried out in some cases more than two years after the incident, some of the information was misleading, and sources of information were of second or third hand. The accusation against Damascus is mostly based on the testimonies of the “witnesses” handpicked by opposition NGO’s, and the assumption that nobody but the government forces in Syria have access to aircraft, which could be used to drop barrel bombs filled with chlorine.
Taking into consideration the gaps and inconsistencies in the report, one may conclude that there is insufficient evidence to state that any party, be it the government of Syria or even ISIS, was undoubtedly involved in the use of chemical weapons. It is also necessary to ask ourselves, what is the motive behind such an insignificant, from a military point of view, use of chlorine as a chemical weapon?
Such acts serve no purpose for Damascus in view of its possession of much more destructive conventional weapons and especially given the fact that no military operations to recapture towns mentioned in the report followed the incidents. Apart from the fact that such acts carry a clear hallmark of propaganda tailored to putting the blame on the Syrian government at pivotal moments of the ongoing civil conflict.
There are talks about the need to impose sanctions against Damascus on the basis of the JIM’s conclusions. There are no grounds for such action which, above all, might be extremely detrimental for efforts aimed at a political settlement.
For more than two years Russia has been trying to draw attention of the international community to the fact that terrorist organizations have repeatedly used chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq. Together with China we proposed to adopt a brief and pragmatic UNSC resolution, which would have constituted a first step toward solving this issue. Considerations of a strictly political nature on the part of some of our colleagues in the Council have caused the international community to lose a minimum of two years that could have been spent in developing measures to address the threats and challenges of chemical terrorism.
Unfortunately, the time lost in pointless political rhetoric has also affected the work of both the OPCW and the JIM, and made it much harder for them to execute their respective mandates. Even now some of the proponents of imposing sanctions against Damascus blatantly call to turn a blind eye to chemical crimes committed by ISIS. Despite this shortsighted policy the time has come for serious action to address this problem.
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
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