Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Supporting OPCW as it seeks to resolve outstanding issues in Syria’s declaration [December 2022]

The press release issued by the Foreign Office on 5 December 2022.

Statement by Thomas Phipps, UK Alternate Political Coordinator to the UN, at the Security Council meeting on Syria’s chemical weapons.

Thank you President, and I would like to join others in thanking High Representative Nakamitsu for her briefing, and OPCW Director-General Arias for his latest monthly report.

Colleagues, let us remind ourselves why we continue to discuss this agenda item.

In the early hours of 21 August 2013, the Syrian regime targeted its own citizens in three suburbs of Damascus with rockets containing the nerve agent sarin. As many as 1500 people died.

Following these attacks, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2118, which called on Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW and eliminate its chemical weapons programme and stockpile.

As we are reminded each month, Syria’s initial chemical weapons declaration, upon which the destruction of its chemical weapons stocks depended, was and remains inaccurate and incomplete. When evidence of Syria’s retention of chemical weapons has proved too compelling, the regime has changed its story.

It has now amended its declaration 17 times.

We know, by the regime’s own admission, that at least one chemical weapons production facility, four laboratories, five previously undeclared chemical warfare agents, hundreds of tons of chemicals, and thousands of munitions were omitted from its initial declaration.

President, these issues are not academic.

Independent investigations have shown that the Syrian regime went on to use chemical weapons in further attacks against the Syrian people, even after they had claimed they had given up all their chemical weapons.

Several of these attacks have involved the use of chlorine dropped onto civilian centres from helicopters, in particular by a division of the Syrian Armed Forces, known as the “Tiger Forces” under the control of Brigadier-General Suhail al-Hassan.

The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team found the Tiger Forces responsible for a chlorine attack on Saraqib in February 2018. But the Assad regime has not limited its attacks to chlorine. On 4 April 2017, a Syrian S-22 aircraft delivered an aerial bomb filled with sarin into the centre of Khan Shaykhun, an attack for which the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism has attributed responsibility. As the OPCW reported in April 2020, the attack in Khan Shaykhun was preceded by two sarin attacks carried out by the Syrian Arab Air Force in Ltamenah in March 2017.

Colleagues, sarin, as I am sure we all know, is a nerve agent that suffocates people to death as their muscles spasm into paralysis.

The chemical profile of the sarin used in all these attacks bears the unique signature of the sarin production process declared in this declaration by Syria.

President, these Syrian attacks are all a matter of record, established by detailed and thorough investigations by the OPCW and the JIM. The OPCW has found Syria responsible for multiple chemical weapons attacks and other serious failures to meet its obligations as a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

As my US colleague said, during last week’s Conference of States Parties, 57 countries joined a French-led statement unequivocally condemning Syria’s use of chemical weapons and its refusal to live up to its obligations as a State Party.

The scale of support for this statement speaks to the overwhelming desire of the international community to uphold the collective progress that we have made in recent decades towards a world free of chemical weapons.

It is our responsibility as members of this Council to continue to support the OPCW as it seeks to resolve outstanding issues in Syria’s declaration. As High Representative Nakamitsu also said, we must also not forget the victims of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. And the UK continues to stand in solidarity with them and we will continue to pursue justice for them and their families.

I thank you President.