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Remarks by Under Secretary Bonnie Jenkins at a UN Security Council Briefing on Chemical Weapons in Syria

Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
New York, New York
February 7, 2023


Thank you, Madam President. I want to start by expressing my deep sadness for the tragic loss of life in both Türkiye and Syria due to this week’s devastating earthquakes. In addition to supporting our Turkish Allies, the United States is also supporting humanitarian organizations inside Syria.

It is not lost on us that many of the Syrian first responders now pulling civilians from the rubble were, just a few years ago, helping civilians who had been burned or suffocated by the Assad regime’s chemical weapons. The humanity and bravery of these Syrian first responders is astounding and we salute them.

I want to thank you, Under-Secretary-General Nakamitsu, Director-General Arias, and Coordinator Oñate, for your briefings. I also want to express my gratitude to the dedicated staff of the OPCW for so compellingly establishing the facts surrounding the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Douma in 2018.

Reading this report one can only first and foremost remember the victims and survivors – men, women, and children – of the horrific April 7, 2018 attack on Douma. By extension, we also remember the victims and survivors of the many other chemical attacks perpetuated* by the Assad regime. On behalf of the United States, I offer our most sincere condolences to the families of those who lost their lives on that somber day.

I also want to salute the Syrian and international organizations that responded to these attacks, assisted the victims, and collected much of the evidence that made this report possible.

As the Director-General briefed and the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) made clear in their report, the facts of what occurred on that fateful day are not in dispute. The Assad regime dropped two chlorine gas cylinders on two apartment buildings, killing 43 men, women, and children, and injuring countless more.

These findings are unfortunately not surprising. This is indeed the fifth separate instance of chemical weapons use the IIT has attributed to the Assad regime – all clear violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. These are in addition to the four chemical weapons attacks previously attributed to the Assad regime by the UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism.

Let us also not overlook the questions raised by the IIT’s findings regarding the role of Russian forces in Douma at the time of the attack. The report highlights that Russian forces were co-located at the base from which Assad’s helicopters launched their deadly chemical attack and that they controlled the airspace over Douma along with the Syrian air force.

The United States and others have also long pointed out the extremely troubling role of the Russian forces in the aftermath of the attack, when Syrian and Russian military police denied and delayed OPCW inspectors’ access to the site. In an effort to set up their own staged investigations, they also attempted to sanitize the site and remove incriminating evidence of CW use. We continue to have serious CWC compliance questions regarding Russia’s assistance to the Assad regime in regard to the regime’s use of chemical weapons in Douma.

The report also puts to rest Russia and Syria’s baseless allegations that opposition forces were to blame for the Douma attack. The IIT made clear that it found such a fable lacked any shred of credibility. This should come as no surprise to most Council members, who bear witness, on a near daily basis, to Russia’s blatant disinformation regarding its brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.

As my colleagues have done countless times before me, I am reiterating the U.S. call for accountability for those responsible for the numerous chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Assad regime, including the one in Douma. We also urge the members of this council not to overlook the classified annex of the Douma report. It is available to all members of the OPCW, and its findings must also be discussed.

The Assad regime must comply with its international obligations and provide OPCW staff immediate and unfettered access so they can conduct inspections and continue investigating Syria’s incomplete accounting for its chemical weapons stockpile. In particular, we remain deeply concerned over Syria’s [potential] efforts to reconstitute its chemical weapons program. Russia, for its part, must stop shielding the Syrian government from accountability.

There must also be no impunity for the use of chemical weapons and the United States remains determined in its efforts to seek accountability for the individuals responsible for chemical attacks in Syria. We have already imposed sanctions and visa ineligibilities against more than 300 individuals and entities linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program and we will continue to use these and others to promote accountability for those responsible for these heinous acts.

With the Chemical Weapons Convention Review Conference fast approaching, these findings also strengthen our resolve to work with other responsible nations to strengthen the Chemical Weapons Convention and keep the OPCW fit for purpose.

We also support investigative efforts, such as the UN’s International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), which is building case files on violations and abuses in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons. It is sharing information and evidence it collects with prosecutors.

The IIIM’s work has already helped facilitate convictions of former regime officials in Europe, and we look forward to more investigations and prosecutions – possibly even here in the United States – thanks to the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act that President Biden recently signed into law.

Now, I understand that this Council may have, at times, grown a bit weary of the Syrian chemical weapons issue. However, in light of this latest report on Syria’s blatant disregard for its international obligations under the CWC and UN Security Council Resolution 2118, we are reminded that now is not the time to reduce our oversight of the regime’s compliance with Security Council resolutions, or to turn a blind eye to the further deterioration of its dismal cooperation with the OPCW. Syria’s blatant disregard for its obligations is an affront to this Council and the international order.

The heinous acts documented in the OPCW’s report – and the Syrian regime’s brazen attempts to deny and deflect responsibility – show once again why the United States is not normalizing relations with the Assad regime.

So, we strongly urge any country engaging with the Syrian regime to consider the regime’s atrocious human rights record over the past 12 years, and the violations the OPCW has documented in Douma and elsewhere.

Thank you for your attention.