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Syria: Chemical Weapons

Volume 614: debated on Wednesday 14 September 2016

I wish to make a statement about the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to respond to the situation.

This Government wholeheartedly condemn the use of chemical weapons, by anyone, anywhere. It is appalling that three years after the Ghouta attacks in 2013, where hundreds died from exposure to nerve agent, Syrian civilians continue to be the victims of chemical weapons.

In 2013, following concerted international pressure, Syria joined the chemical weapons convention (CWC), and declared a stockpile of 1,300 tonnes of chemical weapons and precursors. These have been destroyed by the international community. The UK contribution to this effort included the safe destruction, by incineration, of approximately 200 tonnes of chemical precursors. However, Syria has yet to satisfy the international community and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that the declaration it made of its chemical weapons programme is complete and accurate. The OPCW has stated that Syria’s declaration contains “gaps, inconsistencies and inaccuracies” which need to be answered. We continue to press for the Syrian regime to provide the required level of co-operation and transparency for the OPCW to be able to resolve these issues.

The UN Security Council has made clear repeatedly, in resolutions 2118 (2013), 2209 (2015), and 2235 (2015), that there would be consequences for those responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria. The Security Council thus sent a clear signal that all chemical weapons attacks in Syria must cease. Despite this there have been frequent allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, including in Aleppo earlier this month.

The UK has been at the forefront of international efforts to ensure that reports of attacks are properly investigated and those responsible identified. In August 2015 the UN Security Council established the UN/OPCW joint investigative mechanism (JIM) to

“identify to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organisers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical, in the Syrian Arab Republic”.

The UK argued for the establishment of the JIM and has strongly supported its work, including providing £500,000 to help it become operational. This was in addition to our contribution in excess of £3.5 million to the OPCW, including £2 million to the OPCW’s Syria trust fund, for destruction and verification activities.

In its report of 24 August the JIM focused on nine incidents in Syria, between 2014 and 2015, which the OPCW had identified as involving chemical weapons. The report confirmed what the UK and others have strongly believed for a long time, that the Syrian regime is directly responsible for chemical weapons attacks. Specifically, the JIM concluded that attacks in Sarmin and in Talamenes were the responsibility of the Syrian regime. This is the first time either the UN or OPCW have publicly attributed use of chemical weapons to the Syrian regime.

The JIM concluded that one incident, involving sulphur mustard gas, was the responsibility of Daesh—an attack in Marea in August 2015. The use of chemical weapons by Daesh is completely unacceptable. The UK continues to play a leading role in efforts to defeat Daesh and prevent its further use of chemical weapons, including through the global coalition.

The UK is working with international partners, including other members of the Security Council, to ensure there are consequences for those responsible for using chemical weapons and to send a clear message that such attacks are completely unacceptable and must stop.