UN Security Council Adopts Resolution on Syria Unanimously

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution on international control over and the destruction of Syria´s chemical weapons. The resolution also stresses that non-state actors who have used or use chemical weapons in Syria and state actors supporting them must be held accountable.

After the Security Council unanimously adopted UNSC Resolution 2118 (2013), UN Secretary General Ban Kyi-moon called the resolution the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time, and stressed that the resolution aims at holding the Geneva 2 conference as soon as possible. Kyi-moon stressed the responsibility of regional actors and their responsibility to challenge those who undermine Syria´s sovereignty and integrity, saying:

“The regional actors have a responsibility to challenge those who will actively undermine the process and those who do not fully respect Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity”.

Kyi-moon said that a target date for the Geneva 2 conference has been set in the middle of November and stressed, that the Syrian opposition should be represented at the conference. The resolution has defused the risk of a direct US-led military aggression against Syria by implication, considering the build-up of US and Russian naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean, the risk for a potential escalation of the conflict into a direct military confrontation between US and Russian naval forces.

UNSC Resolution 2118 (2013) calls for “consequences”, should UN inspectors determine that Syria fails to fulfill its obligation under the resolution or the Chemical Weapons Convention. Although the text of the Resolution 2118 (2013) itself does not call for consequences under the UN Charter´s Chapter VII, which authorizes the use of military force, the preamble to the resolution, as published by the UN Department of Public Information states:

Deeply outraged by the use of chemical weapons on 21 August in a Damascus suburb, as concluded by a United Nations investigation team, the Security Council this evening endorsed the expeditious destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, with inspections to begin by 1 October, and agreed that in the event of non-compliance, it would impose “Chapter VII” measures.

Russia´s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov stressed that Resolution 2118 (2013) does not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, and that any consequences for non-compliance would not lead to the automatic enforcement of coercive measures.

After the vote at the Security Council, the Russian Foreign Minister said, that the resolution was in line with the Russian – US agreement reached in Geneva, and that the lead work would lay with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) along with UN experts.

Lavrov stressed Russia´s expectation, that the UN Secretary General and the OPCW Director General would closely cooperate in that work and that the Secretary General would cover the safety of international personnel.

Foreign – backed insurgents in Syria have directly threatened violence against UN inspectors. Lavrov underlined that Damascus had shown its readiness for cooperation by joining the Chemical Weapons Convention and that Syria had provided a list of its chemical arsenal. Lavrov said, that Syria would continue to cooperate with international inspectors and that the responsibility for implementing the resolution did not lay with Syria alone.

The Russian Foreign Minister emphasized that the text of UNSC Resolution 2118 (2013) had not been passed under the UN Charter´s Chapter VII nor did it allow for coercive measures. Lavrov also stressed that violations of the requirements of the resolution and the use of chemical weapons by anyone must be carefully investigated.

With regards to the eventual use of military force, Lavrov said, that the United Nations would stand ready to take action under the UN Charter Chapter VII, but that violations must be 100 percent proven. Lavrov underlined that the resolution contained obligations for all and especially for regional countries and Syria´s neighbors.

UNSC Resolution 2118 (2013) states in paragraph 18, that all UN member states shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-state actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery, and it calls upon all member states, particularly Syria´s neighbors, to report any violations of this paragraph to the Security Council immediately.

Paragraph 19 of UNSC Resolution 2118 (2013) furthermore demands, that non-state actors not develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery, and calls upon all member states, in particular those neighboring Syria, to report any actions inconsistent with this paragraph to the Security Council immediately.

As the Russian Foreign Minister pointed out, the resolution contains obligations for other UN member states with regards to chemical weapons by non-state actors. The wording calls upon however, does not legally bind i.e. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Libya, the USA and other UN members to refrain from supporting non-state actors chemical weapons acqusition and use.

The resolution does not specify “consequences” against any UN member state who either fails to report chemical weapons use by the insurgents, or consequences in the case that a UN member state (continues to) provide chemical weapons capabilities to the non-state actors.

Lavrov stressed, that the resolution sets up a framework for a political settlement and that the target date for holding the Geneva 2 conference was set to the middle of November. US Secretary of State John Kerry, said that the resolution had shown that diplomacy could defuse the worst weapons of war and stressed that the weapons would be destroyed by 2014.

Kerry also stressed that those using chemical weapons must be held accountable. While making several references to the Syrian regime, the US Secretary of State did not mention which consequences the USA might consider in the very likely case that the UN investigation concludes by providing evidence for the use of chemical weapons by the Free Syrian Army and western-backed terrorist groups.

With regards to Syria´s obligations and the eventual use of military force against Syria, Kerry said that the resolution spelled out in detail what Syria must comply with and that Syria could not accept or reject the inspectors, but must give them unfettered access at all sites, stressing  “We are here because actions have consequences”. Kerry stressed that non-compliance would lead to the imposition of Chapter VII actions and that the Security Council had shown that “when we put aside politics for common good, we are still capable of great things”. 

William Hague, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, described UNSC Resolution 2118 (2013) as groundbreaking text, the first on Syria for 17 months.Hague recognized that any use of chemical weapons posed a threat to international peace and security and he stressed that the resolution upholds the principle of accountability for the proven use of chemical weapons.

Hague stressed that the resolution, if properly implemented, would prevent a repeat of the atrocities that were carried out on 21 August. Based on previous statements by the British Foreign Secretary that implies the alleged, repeat of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government.

Like his US counterpart, Hague did not address chemical weapons use by non-state actors and the obligations of other UN member states. The United Kingdom is along with its NATO partners United States and Turkey, and along with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya under suspicion for involvement in providing chemical weapons capabilities to non-state actors in Syria.

Australia´s UN Ambassador and the current president of the Security Council, Gary Quinlan, implied the guilt of the Syrian government for chemical weapons use, saying that the resolution

“reaffirms that those who perpetrated this mass atrocity and crime against their own citizens must be held accountable for their actions. Australia’s assessment is that the evidence available shows that it was the Syrian authority who were responsible for this crime and this incident has confirmed what Australia had said for a long time, that the Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court”.

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Syria´s UN Ambassador, Bashar Jaafari recognized that UNSC Resolution 2118 (2013) holds all parties in Syria equally responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons, including rebel forces. Jaafari stressed, that some members of the Security Council are trying to sabotage the effort, saying:

“It is regrettable that some delegations have begun adopting a negative interpretation of the resolution in order to derail it from its lofty purposes”.

Like the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, Syria´s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari stressed that the resolution also specifies obligations for other countries than Syria. Jaafari stressed that the USA, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar must commit to the document and be held accountable if they continue to arm the rebels. Jaafari said:

“You can’t bring terrorists from all over the world and send them into Syria in the name of jihad and then pretend that you are working for peace”.

Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, stressed the importance of the resolution and the severity of the situation, saying that the region could not afford another war. Alluding to the politically charged debates and maybe alluding to the proven falsification of evidence, including the murder of Syrian children to produce false evidence, Wang Yi said, that the Security Council must make decisions that would pass the judgement of history.

The Chinese Foreign Minister stressed China´s opposition to military solutions and he welcomed the resolution´s focus on the search for chemical weapons. He stressed that China had been the victim of chemical weapons use during the second world war, and that China opposed those weapons in all of their forms. He stressed that a political solution to the conflict in Syria and the destruction of the chemical weapons must go side by side, adding that the parties must redouble their efforts in what would be a complex period ahead.

Open Questions

Statements by respectively John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov underline that there are great differences with regards to their understanding of what consequences non-compliance would or should have to have.

While the Russian Foreign Minister stressed that no military action would be possible without renewed debates at the Security Council, and on the basis of evidence, Secretary of State Kerry gives the impression that military consequences are understood as a given fact in the case of non-compliance.

In previous statements, the Russian Foreign Minister stressed that the Syrian chemical weapons must be destroyed in Syria and not abroad as first suggested. Lavrov indicated that Russia would be willing to guard the Syrian chemical weapons until their destruction.

Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and independent political consultant on conflict and conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. His work with traumatized victims of conflict has led him to also pursue the work as political consultant. He is a lifelong activist for peace and justice, human rights, Palestinians rights to self-determination in Palestine, and he is working on the establishment of international institutions for the prosecution of all war crimes, also those committed by privileged nations. On 28 August 2011 he started his blog nsnbc, appalled by misrepresentations of the aggression against Libya and Syria. In March 2013 he turned nsnbc into a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

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