UN report on Syria chemical attacks lacks proof & full of contradictions – Churkin

A woman, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathes through an oxygen mask inside a field hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama April 12, 2014 © Stringer
Moscow finds “unconvincing” the latest report by the UN-led investigation which blamed the Syrian forces of carrying out a chlorine gas attack 19 months ago. The findings, Russia’s UN ambassador believes, lack solid proof and substantiated evidence.

Members of the Security Council debated the latest, fourth report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN’s joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) which purportedly confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.

The report provided assessments on the three pending cases, namely Kafr Zita (April 18 , 2014), Qmenas (March, 16 2015) and Finnish (March 24, 2015). Unable to determine who was responsible for two other chemical weapons attacks, the fourth report accused the government forces of carrying out the chlorine gas attack in Qmenas, in Idlib province.

The newest report states that helicopters allegedly dropped barrel bombs containing chlorine gas. A device, dropped from a high altitude, “hit the ground and released the toxic substance that affected the population,” the report said.

Though the report asserted that the helicopters most likely originated from two government-run bases in the area, it “could not confirm the names of the individuals who had command and control of the helicopter squadrons at the time.”

The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013, after a Russian diplomatic effort. In January of this year, OPCW confirmed the destruction of all chemical weapons declared by the Syrian Arab Republic.

Taking the floor at the UN Security Council, Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin highlighted the shortcomings of the report, which was submitted to the body earlier.

“We can say already now that in most cases [the report’s conclusions] are not substantiated by sufficient testimonial basis – first of all, material proof – they are full of contradictions and therefore, unconvincing,” Churkin said in new York. “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.”

Furthermore, the Russian envoy said the JIM leadership “clearly overstepped their mandate” when, according to the Russian side, the UN team tried to form “an opinion in favor of holding accountable some individuals.”

READ MORE: Russia urges ‘caution’ on UN’s Syria chemical weapons report, will talk to US

Churkin also said the UN rejected the Syrian government’s clarifications which denied the involvement of the Syrian Air Force in the incident and claimed that the spill of chlorine likely occurred as a result of a traffic accident when it was transported by the militants from Sarmin to Qmenas.

In addition, the hospital which received some 20 patients that reportedly suffered in the attack has yet to provide proof that it indeed handled those cases.

“We are also surprised that the management… of the 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 on the Internet,” Churkin said.

The ambassador also commented on the issue of “improvised” binary chemical munitions, claiming that it made no sense for Damascus to use such weapons.

“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,” Churkin said. “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,” Churkin added.

The March incident is the third case of chemical weapons which the UN investigation is trying to pin on the Syrian government. An earlier OPCW report, which came out in August, tried to blame Damascus for two other gas attacks in 2015.

Ahead of Thursday’s debate at the UNSC, the Syrian Foreign Ministry denied the government forces’ use of chemical weapons.

“The Syrian Arab Republic has repeatedly denied all allegations circulated by some Western departments and their tools about the use of chemical poisonous materials by Syrian sides, like chlorine gas, during military acts which take place between the Syrian Arab armed forces and the terrorist groups,” the ministry said in a statement.

Damascus also reaffirmed its commitment to carry out all its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and offered full transparency.