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Speech by Margot Wallström at conference against impunity for the use of chemical weapons


Paris, 23 January 2018. Check against delivery.

Foreign Minister Le Drian; Director-General Üzümcü; Excellencies; Dear Colleagues,

• Let me begin by thanking you, Minister Le Drian, for taking this timely initiative, and for inviting Sweden to the inaugural meeting of the "International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons". Ensuring accountability for those responsible for serious crimes under international law is a priority for Sweden, not least as a member of the UN Security Council and the OPCW Executive Council, dealing with the issue of chemical weapons.

• This year, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the most significant peace treaty of which was signed not far away from where we are sitting today. The end of World War I, and the ensuing ban against the use of chemical weapons in war, raised the hope of an end to the horrors of chemical warfare. This hope seemed born out 75 years later, when Paris stood host to the signing conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

• A farewell to chemical arms should have been one of the achievements to be celebrated as part of the Great War centennial. Sadly, that was not to be. Just when we thought that chemical warfare could be relegated to the history books, its spectre has reared its ugly head once more.

• The UN investigation led by Dr. Åke Sellström following the nerve gas attack at Eastern Ghouta in 2013 precipitated the Syrian accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Since then, however, the Syrian government has been implicated in numerous cases of alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people, including four cases substantiated by the Joint Investigative Mechanism. This includes the horrendous sarin attack at Khan Sheikhoun last April.

• Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists and other non-state actors has been an international concern for some years, as expressed in UN Security Council resolution 1540. Yet, today we are faced with the very real and serious threat of chemical weapons in the hands of a terrorist group that has demonstrated a total disregard to common decency and a will to commit and encourage atrocities against innocent civilians.

Mr. President,
• So far, chemical weapons attacks in Syria and Iraq have largely been committed with impunity. As far as Syria is concerned – despite general agreement on the importance of accountability – a number of earnest attempts to move forward have been thwarted. The repeated use of veto powers in the UN Security Council to prevent moves towards accountability for chemical weapons use in Syria is highly regrettable.

• The OPCW/UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was a new and innovative tool designed to bring to justice the perpetrators and sponsors behind confirmed chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Sweden was pleased to provide political, technical and financial support to its important work. However, in a highly politicized environment, the Council was not able to act on its reports and ultimately to extend its mandate. Sweden – like several of the countries represented here today - took active parts in efforts to find a way forward that would ensure the extension of the JIM, regrettably to no avail. This, however, cannot be the end of the story. We must intensify our efforts to set up a new mechanism for attribution as more reports from the OPCW Fact-Finding Missions become available.

• Meanwhile, the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry and the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on International Crimes Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic are collecting information required once the international community is ready to move forward on accountability. Such reliable and validated information is indispensable, and let me once again welcome the initiative by Minister Le Drian in founding this partnership focused on information exchange and documentation. We trust that this will be an important and useful way to support and complement the multilateral processes. Ultimately, we must learn the lessons of history and ensure that, 100 years after the end of World War I, there can be no impunity for the use of chemical weapons.

Thank you, Mr. President.