Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution 2235 (2015), Establishing Mechanism to Identify Perpetrators Using Chemical Weapons in Syria
The Security Council today decided to establish for one year a Joint Investigative Mechanism of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which would identify “to the greatest extent feasible” individuals, entities, groups or Governments perpetrating, organizing, sponsoring or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.
Unanimously adopting resolution 2235 (2015), the Council also reaffirmed it would impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter in response to violations of resolution 2118 (2013), by which it determined that chemical weapons use anywhere constituted a threat to international peace and security. It requested the Secretary-General, in coordination with OPCW, to submit within 20 days recommendations — including terms of reference — on the establishment and operation of the new body, expressing its intention to respond within five days.
Further, the Council requested that the Secretary-General and OPCW Director-General undertake “without delay” the steps, measures and arrangements necessary for the speedy establishment and full functioning of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, including recruiting impartial and experienced staff on as wide a geographical basis as practicable. It also requested them to report to the Council and the OPCW Executive Council on the date the Joint Investigative Mechanism would begin its full operations and every 30 days thereafter.
By other terms of the text, the Council recalled that in resolution 2118 (2013), it had decided that Syria and all parties in the country should cooperate fully with OPCW and the United Nations, including through full access to all locations, individuals and materials in Syria that the Joint Investigative Mechanism deemed relevant and determined that “reasonable grounds” existed for access to be justified, including areas within Syrian territory but outside the Government’s control. It called on all other States to provide relevant information to the Mechanism and the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission.
(On 4 February, that Mission had found “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon in Syria in the villages of Talmenes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita from April to August 2014.)
After the adoption, delegates hailed the text’s passage as a rare display of Council unity on the situation in Syria, with the representative of the Russian Federation saying his Government could not overlook the OPCW findings of chemical weapons use. While the question of who had used chemical weapons remained unanswered, the Joint Investigative Mechanism would help to bridge that gap, a point echoed by the representatives of France and Nigeria. “Pointing the finger matters”, the United States asserted. In such work, China’s representative added, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria must be respected.
Syria’s representative said neither the Government nor its army had ever used chemical weapons. Syrian civilians had been targeted by Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS)] and Al Nusra Front. In fact, Syria had warned many times of the danger of chemical weapons use by terrorist groups, some of which were affiliated with Al-Qaida. He recalled Syria’s initiative to launch an inquiry into an incident in Khan al-Asal. Dozens of official memorandums also had been sent to the Council and OPCW containing proof of chemical weapons use.
On the contrary, he said, Syria had upheld its commitments, having adhered to the Chemical Weapons Convention and resolution 2118 (2013). It had cooperated in all ways and had “transparently and flexibly” dealt with the issue despite the challenges of a complex and provocative security situation. Neutrality, transparency and non-politicization must guide the Mechanism, as previous missions had relied on false witness statements and been led “with partiality” from outside Syria.
Also speaking today were the representatives of United States, Spain, Venezuela, Jordan, Lithuania, United Kingdom and New Zealand.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 10:54 a.m.
The full text of Security Council resolution 2235 (2015) reads as follows:
“The Security Council,
“Recalling the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC), and the Council’s resolutions 1540 (2004), 2118 (2013) and 2209 (2015),
“Recalling that the Syrian Arab Republic acceded to the CWC, noting that the use of any toxic chemical, such as chlorine, as a chemical weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic is a violation of resolution 2118, and further noting that any such use by the Syrian Arab Republic would constitute a violation of the CWC,
“Condemning in the strongest terms any use of any toxic chemical as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic and noting with outrage that civilians continue to be killed and injured by toxic chemicals as weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic,
“Reaffirming that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious violation of international law, and stressing again that those individuals responsible for any use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,
“Recalling its request to the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Secretary-General to report in a coordinated manner on non-compliance with resolution 2118,
“Noting the letter of the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council of 25 February 2015 (S/2015/138), transmitting the note of the Director-General of the OPCW, discussing the decision of the OPCW Executive Council of 4 February 2015 that expressed serious concern regarding the findings of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) made with a high degree of confidence that chlorine has been used repeatedly and systematically as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic,
“Noting that toxic chemicals as weapons have allegedly been used subsequent to the adoption on 6 March of Security Council resolution 2209 (2015),
“Recognizing that the OPCW FFM is not mandated to reach conclusions about attributing responsibility for chemical weapons use,
“Recalling that, in its resolution 2118, it decided that the Syrian Arab Republic and all parties in Syria shall cooperate fully with the OPCW and the United Nations,
“1. Reiterates its condemnation in the strongest terms of any use of any toxic chemical, such as chlorine, as a weapon in the Syrian Arab Republic;
“2. Recalls its decision that the Syrian Arab Republic shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or, transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to other States or non-State actors;
“3. Reiterates that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer chemical weapons;
“4. Expresses its determination to identify those responsible for these acts and reiterates that those individuals, entities, groups, or governments responsible for any use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, must be held accountable, and calls on all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic to extend their full cooperation in this regard;
“5. Requests the UN Secretary-General, in coordination with the OPCW Director General, to submit to the Security Council, for its authorization, within 20 days of the adoption of this resolution, recommendations, including elements of Terms of Reference, regarding the establishment and operation of an OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism to 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 the Syrian Arab Republic where the OPCW FFM determines or has determined that a specific incident in the Syrian Arab Republic involved or likely involved the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, and expresses its intent to respond to the recommendations, including elements of Terms of Reference, within five days of receipt;
“6. Requests further that after the Security Council has authorized the Joint Investigative Mechanism that the United Nations Secretary-General, in coordination with the OPCW Director General, undertake without delay the steps, measures, and arrangements necessary for the speedy establishment and full functioning of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, including recruiting impartial and experienced staff with relevant skills and expertise in accordance with Terms of Reference and notes due regard should be paid to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide of a geographical basis as is practicable;
“7. Recalls that in its resolution 2118, it decided that the Syrian Arab Republic and all parties in Syria shall cooperate fully with the OPCW and the United Nations and stresses that this includes an obligation to cooperate with the OPCW Director General and its FFM and the United Nations Secretary-General and the Joint Investigative Mechanism, that such cooperation includes full access to all locations, individuals, and materials in the Syrian Arab Republic that the Joint Investigative Mechanism deems relevant to its investigation and where it determines there are reasonable grounds to believe access is justified based on its assessment of the facts and circumstances known to it at the time, including in areas within the Syrian territory but outside of the control of the Syrian Arab Republic, and that such cooperation also includes the ability of the Joint Investigative Mechanism to examine additional information and evidence that was not obtained or prepared by the FFM but that is related to the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism as set forth in paragraph 5;
“8. Calls on all other States to cooperate fully with the Joint Investigative Mechanism and in particular to provide it and the OPCW FFM with any relevant information they may possess pertaining to individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, in the Syrian Arab Republic;
“9. Requests the FFM to collaborate with the Joint Investigative Mechanism from the commencement of the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s work to provide full access to all of the information and evidence obtained or prepared by the FFM including but not limited to, medical records, interview tapes and transcripts, and documentary material, and requests the Joint Investigative Mechanism, with respect to allegations that are subject to investigation by the FFM, to work in coordination with the FFM to fulfil its mandate;
“10. Requests the United Nations Secretary-General, in coordination with the OPCW Director General, to present a report to the United Nations Security Council and inform the OPCW Executive Council as of the date the Joint Investigative Mechanism begins its full operations and every 30 days thereafter on the progress made;
“11. Requests the Joint Investigative Mechanism to complete its first report within 90 days of the date on which it commences its full operations, as notified by the United Nations Secretary-General, and complete subsequent reports as appropriate thereafter and requests the Joint Investigative Mechanism to present the report, or reports, to the United Nations Security Council and inform the OPCW Executive Council;
“12. Requests the Joint Investigative Mechanism to retain any evidence related to possible uses of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic other than those cases in which the FFM determines or has determined that a specific incident in the Syrian Arab Republic involved or likely involved the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, and to transmit that evidence to the FFM through the Director General of the OPCW and to the Secretary-General as soon as practicable;
“13. Affirms that action by the Security Council consistent with paragraph 5 is sufficient for the establishment of the Joint Investigative Mechanism;
“14. Decides to establish the Joint Investigative Mechanism for a period of one year with a possibility of future extension by the Security Council, if it deems it necessary;
“15. Reaffirms its decision in response to violations of resolution 2118 to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter;
“16. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said that, despite previous efforts to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria — including the adoption of resolutions 2118 (2013) and 2209 (2015) — the attacks had continued. Reading from an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report, she said that, in one town, residents had described a “honey wax yellow gas” rising in the sky and a “pungent, irritating smell like chlorine”. Many people died immediately. “This is what a chemical attack looks, smells and feels like,” she said. While the OPCW had indicated that there was confirmation that a toxic chemical had been used in several villages, until today’s resolution, there had been no mechanism to take the next steps to hold the perpetrators accountable. “Pointing the finger matters” and would help to prevent future attacks, she said, adding that such a mechanism would help to gather information and to name those responsible.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said the Council could not overlook the OPCW findings on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Russian Federation condemned such acts and found that they ran counter to the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, the question of who had used chemical weapons still remained unanswered, he said, noting that the Joint Investigative Mechanism, called for today, would help to bridge those gaps. It would work impartially, professionally and objectively. Taking into account the complex military situation in Syria, it was important that the mechanism developed relationships in Syria, especially in the field. He further emphasized that any efforts of the mechanism must not add to the further antagonism of the parties to the conflict.
LIU JIEYI (China) welcomed the adoption of the resolution, noting that his delegation’s position on the use of chemical weapons was clear and consistent. It supported professional, just and objective investigations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. However, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria must be respected during the investigation process. The Secretary-General should submit to the Council a report on the establishment of the Joint Investigation Mechanism. The international community and the Council in particular should not waver in the search for a political settlement in Syria. He hoped that the resolution adopted today would be conducive to forging a consensus of the Council on the issue of Syria and help it unite to end the conflict as soon as possible.
JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain) welcomed today’s adoption, in which the Council had shown there would be no hiding from punishment for grave human rights and humanitarian law violations. It had honoured its responsibility. The Secretary-General had been called upon to provide a way forward for the Joint Mechanism and once its investigations were under way, the Council must act in line with them. The Council was sending a message to do everything possible to bring an end to the worst conflict of the twenty-first century. Today’s success must drive efforts towards a political solution to end the conflict, he said, expressing support for the work of the Special Envoy.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France) said the resolution had enabled the Council to recover its unity on Syria, where the conflict had been ongoing for more than four years. The Council could not have chosen silence. The OPCW had confirmed the use of chlorine in Syria, but had been unable to identify the perpetrators. It had, however, identified that helicopters had been used during the attacks. The Joint Mechanism would allow the Council to entrust to a neutral body the responsibility for identifying those responsible. In April, several doctors had described to the Council accounts of children asphyxiated during the attacks. Today, the Council had sent a clear message of deterrence to all parties in the conflict. Indiscriminate attacks against civilians continued, making it essential that the Council commit to end the violence and resume the political process. For such reasons, France had voted for and co-sponsored the resolution.
WILMER ALFONZO MÉNDEZ GRATEROL (Venezuela) supported the resolution, as chemical weapons use constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity. Noting that Venezuela was a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, he called on the Syrian Government to ensure investigations could be effectively carried out on its territory. The link between Syria and both the United Nations and OPCW would be strengthened and he expressed hope that the Mechanism would allow for clarifying complaints of chemical weapons use and identifying those who had perpetrated them. The mechanism must be transparent, objective and impartial, seeking to deliver concrete results. The conflict’s resolution must be peaceful, negotiated and political, carried out with respect for Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Chemical weapons use by externally financed groups had had serious consequences for the region. As such, the international community must support Syria in combating terrorism, while the Council must support all initiatives to bring about peace in that country.
DINA KAWAR (Jordan) said the horrific images of the conflict in Syria would remain in the international consciousness forever. The findings of the OPCW reports should be of great concern. “Silence would remove us further from our goal”, which was to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria, she said, noting that her delegation had voted in favour of the draft resolution in line with its position of condemning, in the strongest terms, the use of such weapons. She hoped the United Nations would remain seized of the matter. It was necessary to follow the work of the Joint Mechanism as closely as possible, as it was critical to bring perpetrators to justice and hold them accountable for their acts. Syrians continued to suffer daily, she said, emphasizing her delegation’s hope that today’s adoption would help to unite the international community on the issue of ending the conflict.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) said that, despite the complete prohibition of the use of chemical weapons being at the core of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria was party since October 2013, and the prohibitions contained in Council resolutions 2118 (2013) and 2209 (2015), attacks had continued in Syria. They had still not stopped after the conclusion by the OPCW fact-finding mission in September 2014 that a toxic chemical had been used as a weapon, systematically and repeatedly, in that country. “This resolution we have just adopted is about accountability,” she said. The Mechanism about to be established would provide a clear path to identifying those responsible for the attacks. “This is a crucial step forward, since it will enable us to drag the perpetrators out of the shadows of their ugly deeds, put a face on those criminals and thereby send a clear message to other would-be perpetrators that the international community will no longer tolerate such crimes,” she said. Accountability must not be limited to those responsible for chemical weapon attacks, but should extend to all those that caused death, destruction and suffering to the Syrian people.
PETER WILSON (United Kingdom) said his delegation was pleased to have co-sponsored the resolution adopted today. The mechanism it would establish would move the international community closer to holding to account those that had used chemical weapons in Syria. Indeed, the mechanism had a clear mandate to identify individuals, groups or Governments that had used chlorine or any other chemical as a weapon in the conflict. “This is an important step forward, but there is more to do,” he said, calling on all Member States to cooperate with the Mechanism and with the OPCW in its investigation. The resolution showed that the Council could find common ground, he said, adding that he hoped that it would bring new impetus to the search for an end to the conflict in Syria.
GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said resolution 2118 (2013) had been an important step in confirming reports of chemical weapons use in Syria. That Government’s decision to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and destroy its chemical weapons stocks had been welcomed. Yet, there were still reports that chemical weapons continued to be used, which was a “monstrous” development. It was right that the Council had adopted a Mechanism to identify the perpetrators. He welcomed agreement on the text as a rare example of cooperation on the Syrian situation, which he hoped would help the Council resolve the wider conflict.
U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria), whose country holds the Council presidency for August, said, in her national capacity, that the OPCW fact-finding mission had concluded with “a high degree of confidence” that toxic materials had been used in Syria. It did not have the mandate to attribute responsibility for those actions, which had left a gap that must be filled in order to identify the perpetrators. Today’s resolution sought to fill that gap, which was why Nigeria welcomed it. While her Government supported the Mechanism, it did not have any prejudices concerning who had been behind the attacks. Such facts could be established by the Mechanism and she hoped to see the perpetrators brought to justice. All parties in Syria and the international community should cooperate with the Mechanism, she said, condemning the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstance.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), recalling that 70 years ago, the United States had used atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said that since then, Governments had taken pains to come to agreement on terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which his country had joined in 1968. Syria had recently joined the Chemical Weapons Convention. Yet, his Government had not been responsible for using nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. In 2003, Syria had submitted a draft resolution on establishing a zone in the Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, it had been scuttled by an influential party aiming to protect the Israeli nuclear weapon.
In fact, he said, Syria had many times warned the Council of the danger of chemical weapons use by terrorist groups, some of which were affiliated with Al-Qaida. He recalled Syria’s initiative to launch an inquiry into an incident in Khan al-Asal. After two years, the perpetrators were still unknown. Dozens of official memorandums had been sent to the Council and OPCW containing proof of chemical weapons use, including a file sent last August which contained 13 official letters.
He said Syria had upheld its commitments, notably through its adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention and resolution 2118 (2013). It had cooperated in all ways and had “transparently and flexibly” dealt with the issue despite the challenges of a complex and provocative security situation. Without its cooperation, OPCW’s work would not have been successful. The Syrian Government and army had never — nor would they ever — use chemical weapons. Syrian civilians had been targeted by Da’esh and Al Nusra Front.
Neutrality, transparency and non-politicization must be among the Mechanism’s guiding principles, he said, noting that previous missions had relied on false witness statements and been led “with partiality” from outside Syria. The allegation of helicopter use was a typical example of a fabrication, as helicopters had been flying over Turkish territory. Indeed, Syria had upheld its commitments under all Council resolutions. Yet, comments by certain parties had attracted terrorists to Syria from some 100 countries, evidence of “unprecedented political blackmail” that was only exacerbating the crisis. He pressed the Council to call on States to implement its resolutions, especially resolutions 2178 (2014) and 2199 (2015), stressing that the Mechanism should coordinate its actions with his Government.