UN Security Council approves resolution on Syria chemical weapons

Unanimous agreement on measure, backed by Russia and US, to investigate who is responsible for chemical attacks

A still from a YouTube video uploaded in 2013, allegedly showing Syrians covering a mass grave for victims of a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces on the outskirts of Damascus.
DSK/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Friday aimed at identifying those responsible for using chlorine and other chemical weapons in attacks in Syria that have killed and injured a growing number of civilians over the past two years.

While Russia and the United States have failed to agree on a way to end the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, they have agreed on the need to eliminate the country's chemical weapons.

The resolution fills a gap in assigning blame for the chemical weapons attacks in Syria so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.

A chemical weapon attack on a Damascus suburb killed hundreds of civilians on Aug. 21, 2013. There have been numerous reports since then of chemicals used as weapons in Syria, especially chlorine-filled barrel bombs.

"Pointing a finger matters," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told the council after the vote, praising members for taking "another step aimed at stopping the use of chemical weapons in Syria."

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global chemical weapon watchdog, has a mandate to carry out fact-finding missions to determine whether chemical attacks occurred in Syria. But neither the organization nor the United Nations has a mandate to determine responsibility.

The resolution asks U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in coordination with the OPCW, to submit recommendations to establish a joint investigative mechanism.

The investigative body would identify those who are "perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical" in Syria, in instances where an OPCW fact-finding mission determines that an incident involved or likely involved their use.

In March the council approved a U.S.-drafted resolution that threatens measures, including sanctions, for the use of toxic chemicals as weapons in Syria.

Friday's vote comes just two days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached agreement on the final text of the document. None of the 13 other council members raised objections.

The United States has been pressing for the council to ensure accountability for the growing number of alleged chlorine attacks in Syria, many reportedly using barrel bombs dropped from helicopters.

The U.S. sponsored an informal Security Council meeting in April to hear firsthand accounts of chemical weapon attacks. In early June, Syrian activists and doctors said chlorine had been increasingly used as a weapon. And in mid-July reports emerged that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which controls about a third of Syria and Iraq, used projectile-delivered poison gas against Kurdish forces in both countries on several occasions in June.

Syria's declared stockpile of 1,300 metric tons of chemicals has been destroyed, but the OPCW is investigating the possibility of undeclared chemical weapons.

Chlorine is not officially considered a warfare agent and was not among the chemicals declared by Syria, but its use as a weapon is illegal.

The Associated Press

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