Statement by Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, during the Security Council consultations on the 4th report of the JIM
We continue to carefully study the conclusions of the fourth report by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). We can say already now that in most cases they are not substantiated by sufficient testimonial basis, first of all material proof, they are full of contradictions and therefore, unconvincing.
Our attitude to the conclusions of the third report including the fantastic case when the barrel landed vertically straight into a narrow hole is well-known. The JIM has added nothing new to this story, but for some reasons decided to readjust the initial conclusions on the incidents in Marea, Sarmin and Talmenes.
As we understand the conclusions of the JIM are not definitive, have no legally binding force and cannot serve as accusatory conclusions for taking legal decisions. This has been unambiguously affirmed in paragraph 6 of the report. It is unclear why the JIM Leadership clearly overstepped their mandate and tried in paragraph 52 to form an opinion in favor of holding accountable some individuals.
Damascus should carry out a comprehensive national investigation on chemical incidents confirmed by the JIM, as provided for in Article VII of CWC. We do not see any grounds for using the principle of exterritorial jurisdiction, against the provisions of the Convention, to avoid the creation of a precedent, which is absolutely unacceptable to the prevailing majority of the OPCW member states. As an example of proper implementation of relevant provisions of the Convention we can cite the national investigation of the facts of the use of chemical weapons in Iraq with the assistance of OPCW on the basis of the official request of Bagdad under Article VIII of CWC.
We note the due attention of the JIM in its fourth report to criminal activities in Syria involving the use of chemical weapons and toxic substances by non-state actors and terrorist organizations (paragraphs 49-51), such as “Jabhat al-Nusra”. We should emphasize that “Jabhat al-Nusra” controlled the Talmenes, Sarmin and Qmenas at the time when the chemical incidents under the JIM investigation happened there in 2014-2015. The authenticity of testimony under these circumstances raises serious doubts.
There are some inconsistencies in paragraph 51 of the report. In particular there is a question why the JIM has limited itself to the search of evidence of “Jabhat al-Nusra” access to chlorine and not the potassium permanganate (manganese) and hydrochloric acid during its investigation, which according to the information of the JIM itself had been used in Sarmin and Qmenas as components of the improvised binary chemical device that can produce exactly chlorine when it is exploded.
We regret that for more than two years we together with our Chinese colleagues fail to convince our partners in the UN Security Council in the need to adequately react to challenges, threats and actual recurrence of “chemical terrorism” in the Middle East. All our initiatives in this connection, including the relevant draft resolution have been consistently blocked by the “Western troika” of UNSC permanent members.
The JIM conclusion on the incident of 16 March 2015 in Qmenas raises a number of questions of principle.
The JIM has rejected the clarifications provided by Damascus regarding the non-involvement of the Syrian Air Force in this incident (the spill of chlorine occurred as a result of traffic accident when it was transported by the militants from Sarmin to Qmenas) just on the grounds that due to a different wind direction recorded at that time in that area (third report, paragraph 52 Annex VII) the chlorine cloud coming from Qmenas would have allegedly passed to the south of Sarmin.
This “meteorological” version of the JIM is absolutely inconsistent with the data that had been so emotionally voiced in the US Congress on 17 June 2015 by the head of the Sarmin field hospital Mohamed Tennary who was apparently invited to Washington to testify against “the atrocities of the Assad regime”. He asserted that on 16 March the cloud of chlorine-containing substances coming from Qmenas covered also the Western neighbourhood of Sarmin as a result of which 20 victims were dispatched to his hospital. These discrepancies raise legitimate doubts about the unambiguousness of the JIM conclusions.
Moreover we are also surprised that the management of the above mentioned hospital was unable to provide medical reports to confirm the death of the victims because of chlorine intoxication despite the photographic and video materials that they cynically “posted” in the Internet and demonstrated during the “hearings” in Washington and New York (UNSC, 16 April 2015). This happened after several inquiries of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission (FFM) on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the JIM itself as it has been actually stated in the third report of the JIM (paragraph 49, Annex VII).
Turning back to the issue of “improvised” binary chemical munitions we note that in comparing subparagraph 3 of paragraph 20 of its fourth report, together with paragraph 45 of Annex VII of its third report it is not clear what were the grounds for the JIM to exclude any other effects, besides the chlorine intoxication, to explain the discolouration in Qmenas (chemical incident location #1). In fact this naturally occurring event could have taken place as a result of man-made activity, but not necessarily the use of “chemical warfare”, but due to increased temperature from the wildfire that was raging nearby.
In comparing the picture presented by the JIM from the sites where actually similar types of “improvised” binary chemical munitions were used in Sarmin and Qmenas we would like to raise another question: where did the remnants (granulated powder) of potassium permanganate which did not react with acid disappear after the explosion of the chemical device? In Sarmin according to video footage existing in the open sources such remnants were seen everywhere at the site where the chemical device exploded even in the places where their presence cannot be explained from neither physical viewpoint nor elementary logic.
Finally, let me comment on the issue of “improvised” binary chemical munitions. The very fact of the use of the binary chemical munitions by the Syrian Air Force described by JIM in its third and fourth reports raises serious doubts. Such “sophisticated” use of chlorine is simply meaningless even for psychological suppression of the enemy since only insignificant volumes of chlorine are produced as a result of uncontrolled outside laboratory reaction between potassium permanganate and hydrochloric acid. Even fragmentary knowledge of military science and elementary chemistry give the grounds to make an absolutely different conclusion – i.e. the involvement of terrorists and armed opposition in the above mentioned chemical incidents. Both should think about how all their chemical “experiments” on the civilian population would look like from the viewpoint of simple logic.
And lastly, let us recall that before Sarmin and Qmenas just one case was recorded when someone had used such type of exotic technologies for “chemical warfare” to synthesize the chlorine. In 2012 one of the Syrian extremist groups posted a video in the Internet with the threats to Syrian religious minorities to exterminate the “infidels” by chemical gases. To make it more vivid they demonstrated the killing of rabbits by chlorine that was obtained as a result of the absolutely similar chemical reaction. You can see this videotape at https://www.уоutube.соm/watch?V=рsmmnnckly4 with English subtitles and http://www.liveleak.соm/view?I=ео_1354913225 without subtitles.
Let us emphasize that the key factor that affected the quality of work of FFM and the JIM was the lack of access to the sites of chemical incidents in the territory controlled by the opposition, which they have been denied despite the requirements of paragraph 7 of UNSC resolution 2235. It was impossible to take samples and to store and process them in accordance with relevant standards.
After the attack of the militants against the FFM staff in Idlib province more that two years ago we have not heard about any attempt of the armed opposition or their sponsors to ensure the safe work of OPCW or JIM officers at the sites of chemical incidents which they continue to blame on the Syrian Air Force. This attitude is quite indicative.
As a conclusion, we believe that the experience of the JIM deserves attention since the international community has had an opportunity to obtain at least slight understanding of the threat of proliferation of toxic chemicals in the region in the situation of terrorist mayhem, limited government control and porous borders. We express our appreciation to the Leadership and the staff of the Mechanism for the work they have done. However, as the final reports have shown the JIM can hardly be able to provide the expected results within its narrow geographic and functional parameters. We need to think about an efficient response to the growing problem of chemical terrorism without being distracted to an artificial objective to find yet another sins to blame the Syrian government for. It is also important to correlate the steps on chemical issues with the overall context of the Syrian political settlement.