Amid Rise in Frequency of Chemical Weapon Use, First Committee Delegates Exchange Views on Mechanisms for Swiftly Bringing Perpetrators to Justice
Delegates today condemned the recent use of chemical weapons in Kuala Lumpur, Salisbury and towns in Syria, exchanging views on the establishment of an international mechanism to determine the perpetrators responsible for these crimes and administer justice, as the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) entered the penultimate day of its general debate.
Since the start of the general debate last week, the use of chemical weapons remained a highly‑charged topic. Some Member States traded reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and elsewhere, while also examining the Security Council’s failure to renew the mandate of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, a body charged with the task of identifying perpetrators.
Further, delegates voiced varying degrees of support and opposition to a decision taken in June, at the fourth Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, regarding a new OPCW mandate tasking it to identify the perpetrators who used such armaments.
“The international community should not stand idle in the face of impunity for the use of chemical weapons,” Spain’s representative said. Expressing support for the decision to create a mechanism within the OPCW to attribute responsibilities for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond, he pointed out that the Organisation had already helped destroy 98 per cent of the chemical arsenals declared since its creation and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.
Also welcoming the decision to enhance the capacity of OPCW to identify perpetrators, Lithuania’s delegate said the international community must prohibit any further erosion of the Chemical Weapons Convention. He also expressed support for new restrictive measures adopted by the European Union to address any use and proliferation of these weapons horizontally. Meanwhile, the representative of Belarus condemned decisions that politicize the work of OPCW and undermine trust.
Outlining current threats and efforts to eradicate the use of chemical weapons, Syria’s representative said his country joined the Chemical Weapons Convention to prove its commitment to those goals. Despite facing a range of challenges, his country has met its commitments and destroyed all chemical weapons production sites, as confirmed by the OPCW‑United Nations Joint Mission in Syria.
However, he went on to say, looming threats persisted, including fears that certain States will provide chemical weapons to terrorists and then claim that Syria had used them. “Terrorism will bite the hand that fed it,” he said, warning Member States to stop smuggling weapons of all types, related substances and armed terrorists across borders into his country.
Other pressing disarmament and international security issues discussed today included the weaponization of outer space, a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East, illicit trade of small arms and light weapons, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action contained in the Iran nuclear agreement and the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty.
At the outset of the meeting, the Committee held an informal discussion on the Secretary‑General’s report on the thirty‑fifth anniversary of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (document A/73/284).
Also speaking in the general debate were the representatives of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Benin, Cambodia, Oman and Bulgaria.
The representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United States, Libya and Syria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The First Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 October, to continue its general debate.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon to continue its general debate on all agenda items before it. For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3597 of 8 October.
AGUSTÍN SANTOS MARAVER (Spain), associating himself with the European Union, said the three pillars of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons must be strengthened altogether, as this instrument is vital to creating a world without atomic bombs. However, the repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria, starting in 2012, is one of the greatest challenges to humanitarian law and a flagrant violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. Given other recent cases in Kuala Lumpur and Salisbury, it is necessary to unequivocally condemn any employment of these prohibited weapons anywhere by anyone. “The international community must not remain idle in the face of impunity for the use of chemical weapons,” he said, noting that Spain has participated in all related non‑proliferation initiatives. In addition, Spain supported a decision in June to create a mechanism, within the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to attribute responsibilities for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Spain firmly believes OPCW, which has allowed for the destruction of 98 per cent of the chemical arsenals declared since its creation and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, has the capacity to identify the perpetrators.
VICTORIA LIETA LIOLOCHA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said that with each passing day, the world is facing heightened threats from terrorism and the prospect of non‑State actors gaining use of weapons of mass destruction. With far‑reaching consequences outside national borders, no humanitarian response would be adequate in the case of an attack. Expressing support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, she said her country is working towards the ratification of the instrument, which strengthens the norms against the use of nuclear weapons. Such disarmament efforts cannot be a long‑term process; an accident can occur at any moment, even in nuclear‑weapon States. Turning to the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty, she said it was critical that annex 2 States join the instrument to enable its entry into force. Highlighting concerns at the growing use of improvised explosive devices, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, since gaining independence, has been plagued by foreign and armed groups engaged in natural resource trafficking and the illicit proliferation of weapons. Civilians are the chief victims of such weapons, she said, adding that internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable when returning to their homes. Concerning small arms and light weapons, her Government created a commission to assist in the implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. In a world where basic needs are still not met, she called on States to reduce military spending and funnel assistance towards socioeconomic needs.
ZELMA YOLLANDE NOBRE FASSINOU (Benin) described a world in a crisis that is undermining the global order. She underscored the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 16, which requires the promotion of peaceful, equal and fair societies. Expressing support for the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, she said Benin has joined the list of signatory countries. While the continued existence of nuclear weapons harbours the risk of them being used, the Treaty is a step in the right direction. Given the risks of such weapons falling into the hands of non‑State actors, the international community needs to avoid the potential threat of nuclear terrorism. She called for the strict adherence to Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) before stressing the importance of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and its three pillars. Expressing regret at the lack of consensus at the Treaty’s 2015 review, she hoped the 2020 Review Conference will herald fresh political momentum towards nuclear disarmament. Meanwhile, she lauded the Regional Disarmament Centre in Togo, which provides valuable technical assistance to African States on peace, security and arms control, particularly in combating the spread of small arms and light weapons. She also expressed support for the Programme of Action on Small Arms, while calling for greater international assistance to help ensure the appropriate marking and tracing of such weapons.
SOVANN KE (Cambodia), aligning himself with NAM and ASEAN, expressed disappointment at the failure to reach consensus at the 2015 NPT Review Conference and looked forward to a more fruitful outcome in 2020. With Thailand ratifying the Test‑Ban Treaty, every ASEAN Member State is now a party to that instrument, he said, calling on all remaining countries, especially annex 2 States, to sign and ratify it. At the national level, Cambodia’s National Authority for Chemical Weapons is responsible for controlling and investigating such substances and, at the regional level, is working to strengthen the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon‑Free Zone, known as the Treaty of Bangkok. He went on to call for the proper implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons and underscored the continued importance of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti‑Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, known as the Ottawa Convention.
AUDRA PLEPYTĖ (Lithuania) said upholding the integrity of the rules‑based international system is of critical importance, as it is designed to guarantee global peace, security and stability. Calling for an inclusive and gradual approach to nuclear disarmament, she said Lithuania is fully committed to the consistent implementation of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. However, given the current geopolitical context, the delegitimization of nuclear weapons is not a realistic addition to the harmonization of disarmament and security goals. A non‑nuclear‑weapon State, Lithuania supports confidence‑building measures, reciprocal transparency and effective verification as essential parts of the nuclear arms control and non‑proliferation process. Condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Salisbury and Malaysia, she said the international community must prohibit any further erosion of the Chemical Weapons Convention. In that context, she welcomed the decision adopted at the fourth Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention to enhance the capacity of OPCW to identify perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond, while also expressing support for new restrictive measures adopted by the European Union to address any use and proliferation of these weapons horizontally.
HAMOOD SALIM ABDULLAH AL TOWAIYA (Oman), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Arab Group, said that despite all efforts in the First Committee in 2017, “we must admit that we are still struggling” to make progress on disarmament. Highlighting concerns about all the damages caused by small arms and light weapons, he said their proliferation also wastes resources that could be devoted to sustainable development. Nuclear disarmament would also save resources needed for such endeavours. Denuclearization will strengthen the rule of law and keep nuclear materials from terrorists. Member States need to be courageous in nuclear disarmament efforts and address this threat to international law and security. Oman supports calls for Israel to accede to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and implement the 1995 resolution that links the instrument with the establishment of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East.
GEORGI VELIKOV PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria), associating himself with the European Union, said the current international security situation is “more than challenging”, with recent developments showing multilateralism is at risk despite being the sole means to address the issue. Several new instances of the use of chemical weapons and toxic substances, including in Syria and the United Kingdom town of Salisbury, jeopardize the very norm established against them by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Condemning any use of chemical weapons in the strongest possible terms, he called for consequences to perpetrators, who must be held accountable. Turning to nuclear programmes, he highlighted recent encouraging developments regarding the Korean Peninsula and Iran. He also called for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to engage in negotiations leading to the complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In addition, the Test‑Ban Treaty must be brought into force, with similar progress needed in the areas of conventional weapons control and the behaviour of States in cyberspace.
NIKOLAI OVSYANKO (Belarus) said the level of confrontation between States is higher than ever before, with disarmament platforms being increasingly polarized. Parallel initiatives hardly lead to tangible progress as they do not include all nuclear‑weapon States, he said, calling for confidence‑building measures towards the provision of universal assurances. Noting that Belarus voluntarily relinquished its own atomic arsenal and remains committed to a nuclear‑weapon‑free world, he said a critical goal is the Test‑Ban Treaty’s entry into force. Political will is necessary to adopt measures towards that goal. Meanwhile, he lamented that the use of chemical weapons remains among the main items on the international agenda. In that vein, he condemned decisions that politicize the work of OPCW and undermine trust. He also called on all States to support the General Assembly resolution to prohibit the development of new weapons of mass destruction. Similarly, Security Council 1540 (2004) is a unique mechanism for taking a holistic approach to combat such weapons and their means of delivery. Drawing attention to positive developments, he welcomed the inter‑Korean summit towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Concerning the peaceful use of outer space, he expressed support for the Russian‑Chinese draft treaty. Turning to conventional weapons, he said his Government is troubled by the mistrust stemming from the third Review Conference of the Programme of Action on Small Arms, which should not be used for confrontation purposes and non‑consensus‑based proposals.
BASHAR JA'AFARI (Syria) condemned the development and threat of the use of nuclear weapons by nuclear‑weapon-States, as well as their protection of Israel’s arsenal. Israel has not joined the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, a position reinforced when the United States and United Kingdom made sure that the 2015 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was a failure. Moreover, the United States and the United Kingdom have aided the development of Israel’s chemical and biological weapons programmes. In 2003, Syria attempted to free the region of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, but the United States threatened to veto such an initiative in the Security Council. He then called on Member States to pressure Israel to accede to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and subject its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Condemning the use of chemical weapons, he said Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention to prove its commitment in this regard. Despite challenges, his country has met its commitments and destroyed all chemical weapons production sites, as confirmed by the OPCW‑United Nations Joint Mission in Syria. Highlighting a fear that certain States would provide chemical weapons to terrorists and then claim that Syria had used them, he said cases include the transfer of toxic substances from Libya to terrorist organizations. His Government had also informed the joint verification mechanism and the Security Council of collusion by Qatar and its support to terrorist organizations. He went on to note that the Conference on Disarmament is the sole negotiating forum of all related issues and denounced its politicization by the United States and other Western allies, which prevents it from agreeing on a programme of work. “Terrorism will bite the hand that fed it,” he said, warning Member States to stop smuggling weapons of all types, related substances and armed terrorists into Syria.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, recalled that his country had lived under the pressure of sanctions for years and is self‑reliant enough to overcome any sanction‑related pressure. In 2018, Pyongyang put forth a plan for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula with earnest intention. The failure of past negotiations have more to do with a lack of mutual respect than the threat of sanctions, he said, calling for simultaneous actions and confidence‑building measures in the next round of negotiations.
The representative of the United States said Syria continues to deny the use of chemical weapons despite the existence of hard evidence. Syria’s delegate needs to understand that if Syria uses these weapons again, there will be a clear response from the United States and its allies. He added that Syria is not a credible source of facts.
The representative of Libya said remarks made by Syria’s delegate about the transfer of sarin gas are false. Libya never possessed that substance and all of its chemical weapons have now been destroyed.
The representative of Syria said those who protect the chemical weapon arsenal of Israel and invent flimsy pretexts to safeguard their own such arsenals have no right to direct false accusations at his country when their own record is fraught with proven facts about nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Responding to Libya’s representative, he clarified that he did not say the Sarin gas was produced in Libya, but that it had been transferred from there on a commercial flight.