Statement by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC briefing on the Syrian chemical file (resolution 2118)
The previous Security Council meeting on the issue of implementation of resolution 2118 took place on 25 October, which is less than two weeks ago. Out of all UNSC-assigned mandates that are supposed to report to the Council, there are no other issues that are considered with the same frequency. This appears absolutely absurd, if we take into account the fact that there are no developments on the ground with regard to the Syrian chemical file.
This report of the Director-General of the OPCW differs from the previous one only by two sentences. What sense does it make to convene a UNSC meeting to discuss them? It turns out that we are meeting for a meeting’s sake, so Western capitals could “tick the box” and say that the frequency of UNSC briefings on the Syrian chemical file holds at the same level as it used to. This approach devaluates our discussion of the issues related to implementation of resolution 2118 and undermines the Council’s authority. Instead of this futile exercise, the Council could discuss more relevant and dynamic situations.
But since we are all gathered here today, let me touch upon the aspect that is assuming an increasingly scandalous character. We thank the Ghanaian Presidency for reaching out to the Director-General of the OPCW, Mr.F.Arias, and inviting him to brief us today. We anticipated that he would reject the invitation again. Clearly, he becomes panic-stricken at the prospect of being publicly answerable to the Security Council for blatant violations in the work of the OPCW Technical Secretariat that he is in charge of. This is deplorable, because if the OPCW fails to correct its mistakes, the reputation of this body will be damaged irreparably.
On the two occasions when Fernando Arias dared to address the UN Security Council in person, we asked him a number of specific questions about violations in the work of the Technical Secretariat. In December 2020, we submitted those questions to the Director-General in writing, and also circulated them in the Security Council. Almost two years have passed, but we have received no meaningful response from the OPCW or from the representatives of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, whose presence at our briefings DG Arias believes relieves him from the necessity to report to the Council.
Let me briefly highlight the main issues that we need to have clarified. First of all, the notorious report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission on the Douma incident (April 2018). As confirmed by various sources, including OPCW inspectors who had taken part in the Douma investigation, the final version of the report was doctored dramatically under the pressure of some delegations as compared to the initial version. It means a forgery had taken place. Those inspectors tried to make the OPCW leadership investigate into this, but all was in vain. Besides, they were persecuted for their “quest for truth”. Neither the Director-General nor his representatives provided any adequate explanation of this inadmissible situation.
Secondly, Syria’s initial declaration under the Chemical Weapons Convention. We asked to clarify why there are different approaches to the initial declaration of Syria and, say, Libya and other countries that used to have similar problems but were not subjected to such harsh criticism as Syria; and also why the reports of the Technical Secretariat on this matter are always lopsided and never reflective of positive developments. However, this situation was not limited to mere criticism – unprecedented restrictive measures were imposed on Syria, though there were no grounds for that.
Thirdly, we still do not accept the methods of the OPCW Technical Secretariat, which in its investigations relies on information from biased sources opposed to the Syrian government, collects statements remotely and draws conclusions therefrom in the “highly-likely” style, passing off all this fiction as irrefutable evidence. Apart from the fact that such methods are little convincing, they also violate the CWC, which stipulates the need to observe the chain of custody. At the very least, this is a dramatic, unexplained, and unjustified change of the fundamental aspects of the work of the OPCW. Back in 2013, former OPCW Spokesperson M.Luhan said that the Organization would never test samples to have been gathered by anyone other than OPCW experts in the field. What are the factors that influenced the Technical Secretariat and made it violate its own declared principles while admitting it in its reports? Who should deal with this unacceptable situation if not the Director-General?
In this connection, there is also the issue of double standards that the Technical Secretariat applies when selecting sources of evidence. We see that OPCW inspection teams embrace any materials coming from the notorious ‘White Helmets’, even if those are weak and unconvincing. But when it comes to fact-based evidence indicating that the opposition was involved in plotting of chemical provocations, this evidence is ignored even if it comes from professionals – Syrian authorities and Russian military. Inspection teams also ignore plentiful testimonies of local residents – the eyewitnesses who say that the incidents were staged.
As for the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team, which is so much pampered by our former Western partners, this mechanism does not have “an honest bone in its body” so to say. The IIT is illegitimate per se, and was created following the initiative of Western countries which violated the CWC. So it is not surprising that all products of the IIT are low quality pseudo-analytical speculations issued upon some political orders. Let’s take last year’s IIT report on the incident in Saraqib (February 2018). It follows from the report that the IIT never visited the scene of the incident. All material evidence was provided by the infamous “White Helmets”. Again, half of the witnesses questioned were the White Helmets themselves, and their testimonies were studied by anonymous “competent experts and science institutes”. The report cited plenty of fantastic details like helicopters that flew at a low altitude during nighttime with their lights on (which is impossible when on a combat mission), or a cylinder that became half-rusted within 12 hours from the moment it fell on the ground. Not a single national court would have ever accepted this sort of clumsy disinformation as evidence. But the OPCW Technical Secretariat feels okay to present this to UN and OPCW member states. It even announces further products of the IIT.
We are very much concerned over the practice of the Technical Secretariat to carry out investigations in retrospect. What testimonies can be obtained from eye-witnesses five years after an incident, especially against the backdrop of military and political instability in the country? What material evidence can be collected? In such case, no objective investigation can take place.
But it seems that the leadership of the OPCW Technical Secretariat does not need objective investigations. When briefing the Council in June last year, DG Arias did not answer any of the questions we raised regarding the irregularities in the work of the Technical Secretariat and in fact refused to take any measures to fix them. Besides, he bragged that he was violating the CWC-prescribed chain of custody which was allegedly “outdated”. We wonder what he can back this position with, because it is completely at odds with his mandate.
Quite indicatively, DG Arias never visited Syria and never saw the facilities the inspections of which he dwells on in his reports. This approach is in contrast with the approach of Director-General of another international agency – the IAEA. Rafael Grossi made "shuttle diplomacy" a hallmark of his activities as Director-General of the IAEA. No matter how busy his schedule is, he always finds time to speak to the Security Council. Once he briefed us while airborne on board of a plane. What prevents Fernando Arias from doing the same? Indifference to his duties or fear of not pleasing Western delegations who are trying to monopolize the Hague platform and completely subordinate the leadership of the OPCW to their will? Does he understand what consequences this entails for the Organization under his lead?
It is clear that as long as such an approach prevails, we cannot count on having a meaningful discussion of the implementation of UNSC resolution 2118.