Chlorine Attacks in Syria Condemned at UN

April 2015

By Jefferson Morley

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution March 6 condemning the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria’s civil war and threatening action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if chemical arms are used again. The measure was endorsed by 14 of the 15 council members, with Venezuela abstaining.

Later in March, amid reports of another chlorine attack on the town of Sarmin in northwestern Syria, Syrian authorities, including President Bashar al-Assad, denied using the widely available chemical as a weapon of war.

The Security Council noted that the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had expressed “serious concern” about the findings of an OPCW investigative team, which concluded with a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine attacks had killed people in three Syrian villages from April to August 2014. (See ACT, October 2014.)

In the Security Council debate, Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said that although he supported the resolution, only the OPCW could determine violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. He said Russia did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter without attempts to confirm the use of chemical weapons. Chapter VII authorizes the Security Council to take measures “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

French ambassador François Delattre said the council could not remain idle in the face of violations of Resolution 2118, which endorsed an OPCW Executive Council plan for destroying Syrian chemical weapons and “[u]nderscore[d] that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer chemical weapons.” Delattre declared France ready to take measures under Chapter VII of the charter.
Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the United Kingdom said the resolution put the Syrian regime on notice that the further use of chlorine would trigger additional action by the council.

The OPCW investigation and the UN Security Council resolution did not specify the party that used chlorine in the 2014 attacks, but Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, observed that, among the parties in the Syrian civil war, only the Assad regime has the capabilities to deploy and use chlorine weapons. The regime must be held accountable for its actions, which constitute a violation of international law, Power said.