Transcript: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announces U.N. report confirming large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria

Partial transcript of remarks by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announcing the U.N. inspection team’s findings of large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria on Aug. 21st. The press briefing was held on Sept. 16, 2013:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your patience for waiting.

Today marks a grave but necessary step in the world’s efforts to combat chemical weapons.

A report of the United Nations Mission to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria has concluded that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in the Ghouta area of Damascus on Aug. 21st, causing numerous casualties particularly among civilians.

This morning, I submitted the mission’s report to the Security Council and the member states of the United Nations. We have also posted it online for all the world to see.

The team of experts led by Professor Åke Sellström deserves high praise. They faced dangerous circumstances, including a sniper attack. They did their job in record time while upholding the highest professional and scientific standards.

Working with experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – OPCW – and the World Health Organization – WHO – they showed the United Nations at its best.

The report makes for chilling reading.

The team gathered testimonies from survivors, medical personnel, and first responders. They collected bio-medical evidence and dozens of soil and environmental samples.

The mission has provided the world with an impartial and independent account. The results are overwhelming and indisputable.

85% of the blood samples tested positive for sarin. A majority of the environmental samples confirmed the use of sarin. A majority of the rockets or rocket fragments recovered were found to be carrying sarin.

The findings are beyond doubt and beyond pale. This is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of international law – customary international law.

It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988 and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.

The international community has a responsibility to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.

Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention and its belated acknowledgement that it possesses chemical weapons are welcome developments that come with strict obligation.

I also welcome the agreement reached over the weekend between the Russian Federation and the United States on a framework to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. I urged this morning the Security Council to act urgently to ensure enforcement and compliance with this plan.

After two and a half years of tragedy, now is the time for the Security Council to show leadership and exercise its moral and political responsibilities.

There must be accountability for the use of chemical weapons. Any use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere is a crime.

But our message today must be more than that – do snuff out your people with gas. There must be also no impunity for the crimes being committed with conventional weapons.

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry reported last week on a host of horrors being committed by both sides in the conflict, from murder, rape, torture to indiscriminate shelling of civilian neighborhoods. Yet arms continue to flow to the country and the region.

The humanitarian situation is desperate. People are living under siege. Families face intolerable choices between the risk of remaining in place and the risk of taking flight. Communities that once lived in relative harmony are now torn with sectarian tension.

One third of the country’s people have fled their homes – the largest flows of refugees and internally displaced persons in many years, causing instability across the region.

All of the killing must end. The fighting must end.

We need to do everything we can to bring the parties to the negotiating table. I stand ready to convene the international conference on Syria in Geneva as soon as possible.

I look forward to meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia and Secretary Kerry of the United States later this month and hope we will be able to set a date for the conference at that time.

The U.N. Mission will return to Syria as soon as it can to conduct the other investigations for which it was established.

My hope is that this instance will serve as a wake-up call for more determined efforts to resolve the conflict and end the unbearable suffering of the Syrian people.

Thank you.

Press conference Q&A:

Question: …Based on the munition and delivery systems, some of which have signatures, have you made an assessment on who is to blame, and if so, how do you propose to hold them accountable?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: The mission of Dr. Sellström’s team has been able to determine objectively that sarin was used on a relatively large scale, as I have said. It was the team’s job to determine whether and to what extent chemical weapons were used, not who used them. It is for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further to determine responsibility. We may all have our own thoughts on this but I’ll simply say that this was a grave crime and those responsible must be brought to justice as soon as possible…

Question: …The Russia-U.S. plan gave President Assad one week to declare all his sites. Will you be sending back inspectors very soon to Syria?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Yes. As soon as we have an agreement with the Syrian government, I have asked Dr. Sellström and his team to return to Syria to continue their investigation…in other areas for a final report. I have discussed this matter with the Director General of OPCW and the Director General of WHO. They have all confirmed that their readiness to support this.

Question: …You have spoken repeatedly of the need for accountability and ending impunity. Now how exactly are you proposing this is to be done for war crimes as you mentioned? If not the Security Council, is it the ICC? And what are you personally ready to use of tools available to you as Secretary-General for guaranteeing that there is such accountability?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: As I have repeatedly said that those perpetrators who have used chemical weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in the future will have to be brought to justice. This is a firm principle of the United Nations and international law and international humanitarian law. How to do and how to promote this and when to do, this should be subject of ongoing discussions in the Security Council and I would be ready to discuss this matter. But at this time, I do not have a clear answer that this time. Thank you very much.


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