Syria - UN

UN stalemate buries Syria chemical attack report

Headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague
Headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague Public domain/wikipedia

Japan asked the UN Security Council on Friday to renew a UN-led investigation of chemical weapons attacks in Syria for 30 days. The request came after Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have extended the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for a year. A second Russian-proposed measure failed to win approval as well.


Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov said that Russia had supported a Bolivian-drafted document, which "contained all the necessary amendments that need to be introduced into the activities of the mechanism to ensure that it is honest and objective".

But that document was in turn vetoed by the US.

“The implication is that, for the time being, the ability to attribute the responsibility for the various chemical weapon attacks that have taken place in Syria since 2013, will be stopped,” says Jean Paul Zanders, head of Trench, an NGO that researches allegations of use of chemical weapons.

He points out that the actual investigation of the incidents on the ground are undertaken by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), based in The Hague.

This organisation is not part of the United Nations but directly responsible for the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

As such, the OPCW’s investigations on the ground will continue.

“In other words, material facts about chemical weapon attacks will continue to be collected and evidence already collected from past attacks will continue to be analysed,” says Zanders.

the Leadership Panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017

Syria chemicals

The problem is that the JIM wrote a letter to the UN on 26 October that blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regrime for April's chemical attack at in the town of Khan Shaykhun.

The letter was leaked and published online by the investigative website Bellingcat, run by Eliot Higgins, a visiting research associate with King's College in London.

The letter says that, between 06.30 and 07.00 hours on 4 April 2017, "Aircraft of the Syrian Arab Republic was seen in the immediate vicinity of Khan Shaykhun."

Investigations found a crater from which sarin gas emanated. It had been created on the morning of 4 April 2017. This shape and depth of the crater indicated that it was caused by the impact of an aerial bomb travelling at high velocity.

Just after that time, the point-by-point forensic JIM argumentation continues, a large number of people were found to be affected by sarin and traces of the gas “continued to be present at the site of the crater 10 days after the incident [indicating] that a large amount of sarin was likely released.”

The evidence is consistent with the gas being dispersed via a chemical aerial bomb.

Moreover, the report says, the sarin identified in samples taken from Khan Shaykhun was found to have “most likely been made with a precursor from the original stockpile of the Syrian Arab Republic”, leading to the statement that the JIM “Leadership Panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017.”

The letter was directed to UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres and signed by Edmund Mulet, head of the OPCW-UN JIM, as well as Judy Cheng-Hopkins and Stefan Mogl of the JIM’s Leadership Panel.

But with the mandate of JIM now stopped, it remains to be seen if its conclusions will ever be made official, meaning that the Syrian regime may never have to answer to the conclusions about its use of chemical weapons.

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