Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the Syrian chemical file (resolution 2118)
Let me begin by extending our condolences to the bereaved families and everyone who got injured during the devastating earthquakes that took place in Turkiye and Syria, whose representatives are present at this meeting.
Recently, we have had quite a number of “hollow” meetings on the Syrian chemical file, the futility of which was evident to everyone. Like many other Council members, we have and continue to urge to optimize the schedule of UNSC discussions of this topic.
All this time, our Western colleagues have been cumbering attempts by all sober-minded Council members to use our time in a more productive manner. Perhaps Western states think that the new report of the illegitimate Investigation and Identification Team of the OPCW on the Douma incident (7 April 2018), which was announced last fall, should prove that the Council has something to discuss as regards the Syrian chemical file. However the briefings and the statements that we heard today were void. We spent more than an hour listening to the same narrative repeat again and gain.
Colleagues, if there is something we should discuss today, it is the degradation of the OPCW Technical Secretariat. Instead of being a respectful and impartial international mechanism that should uphold the Chemical Weapons Convention, it has turned into a meek and obedient tool in the hands of the collective West that is utilized to cover up for blatant manipulations and violations of the CWC. The current Director-General of the OPCW, Mr. Fernando Arias, who finally condescended to us and briefed the Council today, bears a considerable share of personal responsibility for this. We will avail of this opportunity and ask him some concrete questions that he has avoided answering so far.
Speaking of the activities of the IIT, I will not comment on that. To us, this mechanism does not exist, because the initiative to establish it was “pushed through” the OPCW Executive Council in violation of the principle of consensus and Article 15 of the CWC. We repeatedly states that we reject all past and future products of the IIT. Its destructive and politicized activities have nothing to do with principles of objectivity and impartiality.
The IIT is incapable of doing anything useful unless the original sin in the working methods of the Technical Secretariat is corrected. This also includes the methods of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission for Syria (FFM) that forged and fabricated its report on the Douma incident to suit the interests of Western states. Just like that of the FFM, the IIT report ignores the scientific, logical, and cause-and-effect ties. So much for this pretentious “pet project”. We already expressed our attitude towards it in the statement of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation dated 30 January, as well as in the Joint Statement by Foreign Ministers of Russia and Syria dated 6 February.
In this statement, I would like to remind of the incident in Douma. For the Security Council, it is something akin to the lab tube that former US Secretary of State C.Powell demonstrated in this very chamber 20 years ago. On 7 April 2018, the notorious White Helmets reported a chemical incident to have taken place in the Syrian city of Douma. Allegedly, cylinders with chlorine had been airdropped in Douma killing several dozens of people and injuring many more who had been taken to the nearby hospital. Few now remember that on April 10, official Damascus reached out to the OPCW suggesting that they should send inspectors to the site, who had been in Damascus and did not hurry to go to Douma. Claims that Russia prevented the experts from visiting, that the US representative made earlier in this meeting, were a revolting lie. On April 14, 2018, the US, UK and France launched a massive missile attack on Syrian civilian and military targets as “punishment” for the Douma incident. In other words, Paris, London, and Washington determined who was guilty all by themselves, without waiting for investigations to take place, and executed the punishment. If they had been truly interested in finding out the truth, they would not have struck Syria in violation of the fundamental norms and principles of the international law and would not have destroyed critical evidence essential for OPCW inspectors.
In parallel to this, there was a propaganda campaign going on in Western media that blamed this incident on Damascus. OPCW was subjected to unprecedented pressure that resulted in the release of the hoax FFM report. I say hoax because the initial version of the report made no conclusions about the responsibility of Damascus. We repeatedly requested DG Arias to comment on that, but he never gave a comprehensible answer either in briefings or closed consultations, or elsewhere. Mr. Arias, here are our questions again.
On what grounds both the FFM and the illegitimate IIT violate the fundamental principle of collecting and preserving evidence, the so-called chain of custody? Mr. Arias, what is it that you are guided by when you sign documents, the conclusions of which rest upon data provided by some “third side”, e.g. the proverbial White Helmets, who do not even try to conceal their bias? Has the Technical Secretariat changed its working principles? Provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention, have they stopped serving as guidance to the OPCW? I remind that back in 2013, the UN Mission to Investigate Alleged Uses of Chemical Weapons in Syria wrote in a report that “release of chemical weapons at the alleged site could not be independently verified in the absence of primary information on delivery systems and of environmental and biomedical samples collected and analysed under the chain of custody”. Now the Organization basically operates the information from open sources and third parties. Apparently, soon it will be acceptable to e-mail evidence of a chemical incident to the OPCW or submit it anonymously. Why not? If this fits into the right narrative, then it will be considered “reasonable grounds” to do certain conclusions.
Mr.Arias, we still look forward to plausible explanation with regard to the shameful scandal around the FFM Douma report, which was simply rewritten under pressure of Western states, in particular its part about chemical, toxicology, and ballistic inspection, and testimonies of eyewitnesses. The inspectors who dared to oppose this blatant forgery that undermined the integrity of the Organization, were suspended from work and subjected to bullying – with your permission. Why haven’t you yet taken any measures to remedy this situation? Even your predecessor, J.Bustani, asked you to start an investigation.
As far as we can see, major irregularities of the FFM report have made it to the latest IIT product, which added some new ones to them, because lies breed lies, and you indulge it. Judging by the main version that the report promotes, victims of the incident purposefully ran to the area where the toxic agent was the most concentrated, even though normally people would try to leave the contaminated area as fast as they can. It does not mention that none of the residents of the damaged building recognized those who allegedly died of exposure to chlorine as their neighbors. Equally, the report never cites numerous testimonies, according to which dead bodies had been transported to the area from the adjacent districts in advance, and that those bodies showed no signs of chlorine asphyxiation, but gunshot and mine-blast wounds. The IIT completely ignores the scandal around the footage made by the “White Helmets”. Serious experts never even deny that this one was staged.
The interpretation of the incident contradicts the basic laws of physics. Somehow the 100-kilos cylinder that “broke through the roof and bounced off onto a bed”, did not damage the room. Hole in the roof does not show any reinforcing bars, which would surely show after such a strong impact. While at the same time, one of the cylinders, that allegedly had been airdropped, does not show any signs of deformation.
Cause-and-effect ties were also disrupted. For example, how could the IIT analyze the remains of the cylinders that allegedly were used in the so-called chemical attack, if both of them were destroyed by the Israeli strike against the Syrian air base? In reality, falsifiers from the White Helmets brought these cylinders to the residential building. But this explanation was simply ignored, even though there is evidence to prove it – paint marks in the building’s staircase, through which the cylinder was taken to the apartment.
Mr.Arias, you stand at the helm of an international organization and should remain neutral and impartial. But in spite of this, you not only signed the IIT report, but also made a comment upon its release. “The world now knows the facts – it is up to the international community to take action, at the OPCW and beyond”, that is what you said. Does this mean that you deliberately ignore the information that other states and us submitted to the OPCW and openly side the West who patronized the “White Helmets” and who pursue an anti-Syrian agenda? Can you disclose sources of information that was used to concoct this paper by the IIT? Considering how the insinuations contained in it were quickly picked up by the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany, who also hastened to throw out another heap of anti-Russian accusations in a joint statement by the heads of their Foreign Ministries, the politicized nature of this document cannot be doubted.
Mr. Arias, we expect you to answer to our questions now, during the open session, without trying to put it off until consultations. We have nothing to hide, and you also should have no secrets from UNSC members and parties to the CWC. Besides, we expect that from now on you will be able to find opportunities to address the Security Council when it deems it necessary to invite you.
Right of reply:
Let me state again that even though DG Arias delivered quite an expatiation today, he did not respond to a single question that not only us, but also the expert community were asking him out of indignation at the unprecedented violations in the work of the OPCW Technical Secretariat. We heard nothing but assurances of highest quality standards of OPCW investigations. I wonder if DG Arias sees how the information that “White Helmets” submitted to the OPCW is different from the evidence that was discovered in Douma by the inspectors and then rejected by the Secretariat after it had received an instruction to rewrite the initial report? The situation around the forgery of the FFM Douma report, including the crackdown on the inspectors who dared to be vocal and speak the truth, remains a shameful stain on the OPCW reputation. Today we could see again that the Director-General has nothing to say in the face of facts. Not least because of DG Arias, the Syrian chemical file is turning into a synonym of lies, forgeries, and settling of political scores on the part of Western states, whose bidding the Technical Secretariat is doing obediently. We clearly saw it today.
Point of order by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the Syrian chemical file (resolution 2118)
We would like to put on record our strong objection to the presence of Coordinator of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team S. Oñate at this meeting. We see no reason for his participation, taking into account the fact that a number of UNSC members do not recognize this mechanism as legitimate.
Besides, Mr. Oñate’s participation is clearly excessive, because we already have two agreed briefers for today – Director-General of OPCW F.Arias, as well as Under-Secretary-General I.Nakamitsu. We believe that Mr. Arias, as head of a specialized international agency, must have full information about the operation of the organization under his lead, including technical details, and be politically accountable for what he reports to the Council during his briefing. We expect that this is what he is going to do today, without shifting responsibility to his subordinates. Neither the Presidency, nor our Western colleagues who called for having Mr. Oñate as a briefer, provided any coherent explanation why Coordinator of the IIT, whose position as we understand does not rank among the leading OPCW posts should participate in a Security Council meeting as a briefer on par with his senior officer. Does this imply that DG Arias is not able to answer to questions of member states and shall need “expert back-up”? Or is he afraid of addressing the UNSC by himself (even via VTC) after more than 6 months of evasion? This does not add to the reputation of the OPCW Technical Secretariat.
We also have serious questions to the Presidency in this connection. Unfortunately, the Presidency violated the act-by-consensus practice and in fact, openly sided with Western delegations who requested to have Mr. Oñate as a briefer, while ignoring the concerns and constructive proposals of other Council members.
We can understand perfectly well why Western delegations insist on having Mr. Oñate as a briefer today. But we are up against turning the Security Council into a stage for political shows. This already happened to the OPCW following the will of Western delegations and given complete connivance of the OPCW leadership. We must not let the same thing happen to the Security Council.
Of course, we are not going to talk to Mr. Oñate, ask him questions, or react to his remarks either in this open briefing or during closed consultations. We call on the other Council members to adopt the same principled position on this issue.
PERMANENT MISSION OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION TO THE UNITED NATIONS