FROM: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
April 16, 2015
Thank you all for coming out. The first thing I want to do is to encourage you to, later this afternoon, have the experience that the Council just had, which is to listen to three remarkable individuals who testified to the experiences that they have had inside Syria, related to Syrian chemical weapons use – chlorine use most recently. And in the case of Qusai Zakarya, his experience of being left for dead in August 2013 in the chemical weapons attack in Moadamiya.
What the Council heard were testimonies from Dr. Tennari, who is a Syrian Arab Red Crescent-affiliated physician in the town of Sarmin, who dealt with the chlorine attacks that occurred in March – at great risk to himself and the other medical professionals he was working with tried to resuscitate and care for the people who came to his hospital, his impromptu field clinic, you might say, and were in desperate need of help. They were choking, they were vomiting and they bore all of the tell-tale signs of chemical weapons use. None of them, as he’ll describe, had fragments, shell fragments, or any of the kinds of injuries you would expect from conventional weapons use, or even from conventional barrel bombs use – if you can put it that way.
So Dr. Tennari described the horror of being in a situation where you can’t help everyone who comes to you: when parents are bringing their children and you are trying to resuscitate them and you cannot because you don’t have the medical supplies and because the toxic chemicals are so overpowering. We also heard from Dr. Zaher Sahloul who is the President of the Syrian-American Medical Society, who has made innumerable medical missions to Syria, who raises money here in this country and elsewhere to try to fund medical supplies, to try to care for people who suffer all injuries and ailments. And Zaher is just back from a medical mission where he talked to and saw the doctors and the survivors of the Sarmin attack, as well as others.
In terms of the Council, we held this meeting – we brought the Council members together with these remarkable individuals because the Security Council has come together to pass Security Council resolution 2118, which has come a long way in dismantling Assad’s declared chemical weapons program. But that resolution, which was a resolution – unusual for Syria that all members of the council were able to agree upon, and very much the product of U.S.-Russian cooperation in dismantling the Syrian chemical weapons program – has not resulted in the end of chemical weapons use in Syria. And the council, as you know, came together again recently in resolution 2209 to make very clear that chlorine use is a form of Syrian chemical weapons use. It’s not what people think of necessarily. They think of it being a household product. But when you stick it in a barrel bomb and you turn it into a toxic weapon, it is prohibited by the chemical weapons convention, it is prohibited by resolution 2118 and it is made very clear that it is utterly condemned and prohibited by resolution 2209.
So what we’ve done today is brought individuals who can testify to what happened; brought the facts to the council in as rapid and moving a way as we could do, and it is now in our view, incumbent on the Council to go further than we have been able to come to this point, to get past the old divisions, to draw on the unity that we have managed to show on the single issue of chemical weapons, and stop these attacks from happening. Now the form that that takes, of course, getting everything through 15 members of the Security Council is extremely challenging – there were 4 vetoes issued on Syria, on attempted Syrian resolutions in the past – but we feel as though anybody who witnessed what we just witnessed, and what you will hear from these individuals later today I hope, can’t be anything but changed, can’t be anything but motivated. And we need an attribution mechanism so we know precisely who carried out these attacks; all of the evidence of course shows that they come from helicopters, only the Assad regime has helicopters; that’s very clear to us. But we need to move forward in a manner that also makes it very clear to all Council members, and then those people responsible for these attacks have to be held accountable.
The very last thing I’d say, because I know there’s a lot of skepticism about accountability, because of the veto that we experienced when we put forward, with our partners, a referral of the crimes in Syria to the ICC: it is true that we failed to secure an ICC referral out of the Security Council, but it is not true that that means that accountability will not happen in Syria. Individuals who are responsible for attacks like that will be held accountable, and the documentary record is being built, the testimonies are being gathered and the long arm of justice is taking more time than any of us would wish right now, but this documentary record will be used at some point in a court of law and the perpetrators of these crimes need to bear that in mind.
Reporter: Ambassador, can you describe to us what the atmosphere was like in the room when you saw and heard this evidence?
Ambassador Power: The only analogue I can come up with is the experience of seeing the Caesar photos. I mean, the video, in particular, of the attempts to resuscitate the children – if there was a dry eye in the room, I didn’t see it. It was – it’s just devastating to see the facts of what this regime is doing. So people were visibly moved, people had questions, very fair questions, about “how do you know this?” and “what are the symptoms?” But for the most part, almost every Council member prefaced what they said by saying, “forgive me if I don’t use diplomatic language, but I am so moved and so overwhelmed by what I have seen,” and then they proceeded with their comments. It was an extremely unusual and very, very emotional meeting.
Reporter: How do you see an attribution mechanism – you mentioned an attribution mechanism?
Ambassador Power: You know, we have to work through the modalities on this. Traditionally, criminal responsibility is best established in a criminal tribunal, which is why we and so many Council members supported an ICC referral. But in this instance, that has not proven possible at this point. And of course, the Syrian authorities are in no positon to judge themselves, given that they are gassing their own people and dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. So we need to think through what are the right modalities for an attribution mechanism. The OPCW already, as you know, has fact-finding missions that it has dispatched and they have produced very important layers and layers of testimonies and eyewitness reports and have shown, and reported with high confidence, that chlorine is being used as a chemical weapon in Syria,
systematically. But what the OPCW has never done is point the finger and establish attribution. And that has not been in their mandate up until this point. Bear in mind, again, that the traditional model for OPCW is parties to the chemical weapons convention who want the OPCW’s help getting rid of their chemical weapons stockpile or monitoring it – we haven’t had a circumstance like this where we have a party to the chemical weapons convention that is still prepared to use chemical weapons. And so OPCW and the UN Security Council have to come together and deal with a devastating and grotesque historical anomaly.