THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Maltese Parliamentary delegation participates in the 17th Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean

The 17th Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) was held in Rabat, Morocco on 1-2 March. The Maltese delegation was headed by MP Katya De Giovanni, and comprised MPs Ray Abela, Graziella Galea, on. Davina Sammut Hili and Bernice Bonello. Reports of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Standing Committee were presented during the plenary session, whilst a number of resolutions were adopted by the delegates present at the Assembly.

MP De Giovanni spoke during the 3rd Standing Committee session on Dialogue among Civilisations and Human Rights, and Activities for 2023. She referred to a PhD study by Audrey Abela which is outlining the fact that when it comes to reporting of domestic violence, male victims tend to shy away more than women from filing a report with the authorities. She emphasised that PAM and this Committee, in particular, should also take this aspect into consideration when dealing with reports on domestic violence.

MP Ray Abela, who has been recently appointed PAM Rapporteur on Digitalisation, addressed the plenary on the subject. He stated that digitalisation is now dictating our lives, how we communicate, the way we purchase and sell things, research, study and more than anything, entertain ourselves. Although digitalisation is an opportunity for the region, the digital divide is a challenge which requires cooperation to be overcome. He concluded his intervention by informing the delegates that in the coming weeks a research initiative will be launched through a questionnaire to examine the level of digitalisation in member countries and therefore, take stock of the situation in the region.

MP Graziella Galea, who has recently been appointed PAM Rapporteur on the Environment, presented the report and resolution on the outcome of the COP 27 and the impact of climate change. She referred to the dire situation in which our globe, and in particular the Mediterranean region, finds itself in due to the impact of climate change. MP Galea then outlined the results achieved during the COP 27, which although not all have been positive, included some important decisions. One such decision was the agreement reached on the creation of a “Loss and Damage Fund for Vulnerable Countries” to help and compensate developing countries with limited spending capabilities. She also referred to the biological resources of the oceans, and especially for the welfare of the Mediterranean Basin. She informed that PAM is closely monitoring the ongoing negotiations at the UN in New York aimed at finding the first ever legally binding instrument on the use of biological resources beyond national jurisdictions.

The plenary also elected the new PAM President, Mr Enaam Mayara, Speaker of the Moroccan House of Councillors, for the bi-ennum 2023-2024, as well as the new Bureau.

The PAM is an international organisation that was established in 2005 by the national parliaments of the Mediterranean region, with the aim of boosting political, social, and economic cooperation and finding solutions for mutual challenges.

Source: Office of the Prime Minister

Governor Scicluna congratulates 36 staff members for their recent academic achievements

Central Bank of Malta Governor, Professor Edward Scicluna met with 36 staff members from various Bank departments to congratulate them on their recent successful completion of their academic qualification related to their work at the Bank. The event took place on 7 March 2023 at the Bank. Central Bank of Malta Governor, Professor Edward Scicluna met with 36 staff members Bank staff achieved academic qualifications ranging from Diplomas, Bachelor’s Degrees, Master’s Degrees to a Doctorate Degree. Governor Scicluna congratulates 36 Staff Members for their recent Academic Achievements Governor Scicluna addressed the staff present and held “The Bank has always given and will continue giving high priority to investing in its staff members, keen to further their studies and enhance their expertise.” Family photo together with the Governor and respective Chief Officers of CBM staff members who have achieved an academic qualification Family photo together with the Governor and respective Chief Officers of CBM staff members who have achieved an academic qualification Family photo together with the Governor and respective Chief Officers of CBM interns who have achieved an academic qualification Family photo together with the Governor and respective Chief Officers of CBM interns who have achieved an academic qualification

Source: Central Bank of Malta

Human Rights Council Hears that the People of Myanmar Continue to Suffer Profound Human Rights Harms and that Serious and Systematic Human Rights Violations and Abuses in Nicaragua are Crimes against Humanity

Council Concludes its Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan

The Human Rights Council this afternoon concluded an interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, held an interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and began an interactive dialogue with the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua.

Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said as Myanmar entered the third year of the crisis generated by military rule, its people continued to suffer profound human rights harms; an expanding humanitarian emergency; continuing impunity of the military authorities; and a deepening economic crisis. Armed conflict continued to grow and military operations now increasingly involved the use of airstrikes, artillery shelling and heavy weaponry against civilians. The latest report detailed a number of incidents being investigated, including hundreds of houses being burned and dozens of people, including children killed by shelling and military raids. Since February 2021, at least 17,572 people had been arrested (including 381 children) with 13,763 remaining in detention. Across the country, 17.6 million people now needed humanitarian assistance, and over 15.2 million faced acute food insecurity. The Rohingya community still remaining in Myanmar continued to face widespread discrimination. There needed to be increased international support, and the continuing proceedings before both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court warranted every support.

In the discussion on Myanmar, speakers said, among other things, that since the 1 February 2021 coup, the military had brought the country into a perpetual human rights crisis through continuous human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law, some of which may amount to international crimes. The consistent tactics and patterns of abuse underscored the military’s responsibility for these violations, including indiscriminate airstrikes and artillery attacks against populated areas, village raids and burnings, arbitrary arrests, use of torture, extrajudicial killings, killings of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, military use of schools, sexual and gender-based violence, severe restrictions of fundamental freedoms and many more, with persons belonging to ethnic or religious minorities such as the Rohingya bearing the brunt.

One speaker spoke of regret that Myanmar had not participated in the discussion, stressing respect for its sovereignty. Some speakers said all parties should speak and work in order to help the parties in Myanmar overcome their divergences and problems in order to overcome their differences, and the international community should respect the territorial integrity and national unity of Myanmar in resolving the situation. Dialogue and reconciliation must be the way forward. To not listen to the State concerned precluded hearing about its efforts and the progress made on the ground. Another speaker called for an end to all unilateral coercive measures imposed on Myanmar, which caused immense suffering to the people on the ground.

Speaking in the discussion on Myanmar were European Union, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, France, United States, Japan, Luxembourg, Costa Rica, China, United Nations Children’s Fund, Indonesia, Venezuela, Egypt, Canada, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Malaysia, South Africa, Maldives, Türkiye, Bangladesh, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, Malawi, Australia, Mauritania, Libya, Thailand, Belarus, Botswana, Ireland, Viet Nam, Iran, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone and Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation countries.

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and Immigration, Centre pour les Droits Civils et Politiques – Centre CCPR, Society for Threatened Peoples, Edmund Rice International Limited, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, and CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

The Council then started an interactive dialogue with the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua.

Jan-Michael Simon, Chair of the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua, said the Group had investigated alleged human rights abuses and violations committed in Nicaragua since April 2018.

Based on the information analysed, the Group concluded that serious and systematic human rights violations and abuses of human rights took place in Nicaragua during the period covered by the report, perpetuated by government representatives, and those from pro-government groups. Violations included extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, torture and cruel treatment including acts of sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary deprivation of nationality, and violations of the right to remain in the country, among others. These violations were perpetrated against genuine and perceived opponents of the Nicaraguan Government. The Expert Group concluded that the violations were committed as a pattern of behaviour which was generalised and systematic.

These violations constituted crimes against humanity. These crimes against humanity were committed within the framework of a discriminatory policy against part of the population of Nicaragua, for political motives, intentionally organised from the highest levels of government.

Nicaragua, speaking as the country concerned, said the Government of reconciliation and national unity wished to formally indicate that it had not nor would it ever accept the unilateral appointment of the Members of the Group of Experts in any way, shape or form. This group was nothing less than a smokescreen in order to allow fabrication of facts. The input to it came from certain opposition elements in the country that were putting forth false narratives directed by imperialist powers with the aim of interfering in the nation. No reports were accepted, as they ran counter to the over-arching interests of the State, which was aiming to ensure human rights across the board. Nicaragua did not wish these reports to continue to undermine its institutions and legal order. The reports did not reflect the most basic progress, such as in education, women’s rights, and poverty reduction. Any recommendations put forward lacked objectivity and were tantamount to coercion, since they undermined the efforts of all Nicaraguans.

In the ensuing discussion on Nicaragua, speakers expressed, among other things, outrage for the serious and systematic human rights violations laid out in the reports, including crimes against humanity. The report left no doubt regarding the grave seriousness of the human rights situation in Nicaragua, which continued to deteriorate, and could lead to an even graver humanitarian crisis. The Government should work to ensure the human rights of all Nicaraguans, and ensure accountability and justice for all for the human rights violations listed in the report, including allegations of torture and grave violations of civil and political rights. Multiple speakers welcomed the release of 222 political prisoners by the Government of Nicaragua, but remained gravely concerned about the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law.

Speaking in the discussion on Nicaragua were Chile on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Luxembourg on behalf of a group of countries, Iceland on behalf of a group of countries, France, United States, Switzerland and Ecuador.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, in concluding remarks, said many interventions had rightly focused on discrimination against women and girls. Even if the situation affecting women and girls was less serious, there would still be a human rights crisis in Afghanistan. There was an increasing number of reports of arbitrary arrests, torture, disappearance and killings, including those of a district governor and former police commander in the past few days, who appeared to have suffered torture before being killed. The Council was implored to consider this on its agenda. Mr. Bennett called on the de-facto authorities to take concrete steps to stop these killings and bring those responsible to justice. Rapidly shrinking civil space was also a concern, described as a “muzzling” of the media in the report.

In the discussion on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, speakers raised, among other issues, the deep concern over the regressive, disproportionate and discriminatory measures imposed by the de facto authorities on Afghan women and girls, particularly the banning of tertiary education for Afghan women. Speakers urged the de facto authorities to urgently reconsider this decision, which was detrimental to the future generation of Afghanistan. There was also concern about the economic and humanitarian crises that continued to deteriorate in the country.

The situation in Afghanistan was due to United States’ activities in the country, one speaker said, urging the Special Rapporteur to find a way around the effective blocking of Afghan assets by the United States, which undermined Afghanistan’s capacity to move towards sustainable peace and development. Some speakers were disappointed that the Special Rapporteur had not taken note of this in his report, urging him to take into consideration the historical reasons for the crisis, and to call for an end to the blocking of assets.

Speaking in the discussion were Malaysia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Australia, Türkiye, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Italy, Republic of Malta, Chile, Malawi, Montenegro, Austria, Croatia, Namibia, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Argentina, Timor-Leste, Iran, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Russian Federation, Slovenia, and United Kingdom.

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Interfaith International Intervention, Save the Children International, International Lesbian and Gay Association, World Organisation against Torture, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation Intervention, International Bar Association, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés, and Meezaan Centre for Human Rights.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-second regular session can be found here.

The next meeting of the Council will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 7 March, when it will

conclude the interactive dialogue with the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the Commission of Human Rights in South Sudan. The Council will then hear the High Commissioner’s oral update and presentation of reports under item 2, followed by a general debate under item 2 – annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan

The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion on Afghanistan

Some speakers expressed deep concern over the regressive, disproportionate and discriminatory measures imposed by the de facto authorities on Afghan women and girls. Such measures, particularly the banning of tertiary education for Afghan women and girls, contradicted Islamic principles and international human rights law. Speakers urged the de facto authorities to urgently reconsider this decision, which was detrimental to the future generation of Afghanistan. The recent decisions to ban women and girls from higher education, along with the decree barring women from working in national and international non-governmental organizations were yet another stark demonstration of the silencing of the voices of women and girls in the country. Such actions were self-defeating, and would only aggravate the dire socio-economic conditions, as well as maybe being tantamount to gender persecution.

Education was the key to economic well-being and future prosperity in any society, and as such, education in Afghanistan, especially for girls and women, must continue and even increase. The data was clear that educated girls and women contributed very significantly to social and economic well-being. In order to bring together the three pillars of the United Nations: human rights, peace and security, and development, as well as to promote inclusive and comprehensive sustainable development in the region, one speaker proposed to establish a United Nations Regional Hub on Sustainable Development Goals for Central Asia and Afghanistan in Almaty, Kazakhstan, which would coordinate all international programmes aimed at supporting Afghanistan. Speakers appealed repeatedly to Afghanistan to restore access to education for all women and girls within the country, allowing them to achieve development and prosperity.

There was also concern about the economic and humanitarian crises that continued to deteriorate in Afghanistan. The international community should increase its efforts to address these issues through constructive dialogue and cooperation, and help Afghanistan from descending further into insecurity, poverty and isolation. The international community needed to also continue to give coordinated and constructive suggestions to Afghanistan on improving the situation. Afghanistan remained in a dire economic crisis: ensuring stability in the country was critical. Almost the entire population was impacted by the dire situation, with currently 97 per cent of them suffering in various ways.

Fighting impunity and ensuring accountability for the violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses was an essential for the stability and peaceful future of all Afghan citizens, speakers said. Today Afghanistan was a dreary place where the Constitution was suspended, the rule of law was subject to interpretation, and the Taliban was ruling through fear and repression. The overwhelming sense of hopelessness, compounded by the economic and humanitarian crises, were deeply affecting the whole of Afghan society. It was therefore crucial to keep providing humanitarian and basic needs assistance.

Efforts should be made by the international community to ensure that Afghanistan adopted a Government that was representative of all parts of Afghan society, including the various ethnic and religious groups, as well as women and girls.

The situation in Afghanistan was due to United States’ activities in the country, one speaker said, urging the Special Rapporteur to find a way around the effective blocking of Afghan assets by the United States, which undermined Afghanistan’s capacity to move towards sustainable peace and development. Some speakers were disappointed that the Special Rapporteur had not taken note of this in his report, urging him to take into consideration the historical reasons for the crisis, and to call for an end to the blocking of assets.

Another issue of deep concern was the situation of millions of children in Afghanistan deprived of essential services, including primary healthcare, education, water and sanitation, while many of them continued to be killed and maimed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war, as well as their recruitment for conflict. The Special Rapporteur was asked, considering the inclusion in his mandate of a child’s rights perspective, what was his assessment on the situation of children and on future prospects? Another question asked was what prospects for positive developments by the authorities he saw in light of the recent setbacks?

Concluding Remarks

RICHARD BENNETT, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, thanked all the States and members of civil society for their interventions and questions. Many interventions had rightly focused on discrimination against women and girls. Mr. Bennett welcomed the decision by the Council at the previous session to mandate a specific report on the situation of women and girls at the fifty-third session. Even if the situation affecting women and girls was less serious, there would still be a human rights crisis in Afghanistan. Mr. Bennett was concerned about the extra judicial killings of former civil servants and members of the Afghan security forces, despite the general amnesty issued by the de-facto authorities. There was an increasing number of reports of arbitrary arrests, torture, disappearance, and killings, including those of a district governor and a former police commander in the past few days, who appeared to have suffered torture before being killed. The Council was implored to consider this on their agenda.

Impunity could lead to ongoing animosity and future bloodshed. Mr. Bennett called on the de-facto authorities to take concrete steps to stop these killings and bring those responsible to justice. Rapidly shrinking civil space was also a concern, described as a “muzzling” of the media in the report. There was no independent mechanism to address human rights complaints and bring them to the attention of the authorities. Journalists, human rights defenders and civil society should be able to operate freely without fear, but this was not the case. The banning of education was not supported or justified; this was a universal right. Girls must be allowed to resume their studies alongside boys, and women alongside men at university. The impact of war, compounded by the Taliban’s rule would be intergenerational. If Afghanistan was to have a new generation of leaders tomorrow, they needed basic services today.

Mr. Bennett appreciated the strengthening of his mandate to include the documentation of evidence. There needed to be a stocktake of what mechanisms already existed for accountability, and there needed to be more resources put towards this. It was important to note that accountability should include the right to truth and reparations, as well as criminal accountability. Afghanistan deserved more commitment and engagement from the international community. Mr. Bennett expressed his unwavering admiration and commitment to the Afghan people who strove for human rights.

Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

Report

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of the recommendations made by the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar (A/HRC/52/21).

Presentation of Report

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said as Myanmar entered the third year of the crisis generated by military rule, its people continued to suffer profound human rights harms; an expanding humanitarian emergency; continuing impunity of the military authorities; and a deepening economic crisis. Armed conflict continued to grow and military operations now increasingly involved the use of airstrikes, artillery shelling and heavy weaponry against civilians. The latest report detailed a number of incidents being investigated, including hundreds of houses being burned and dozens of people, including children, killed by shelling and military raids.

Airstrikes against civilian locations had increased by 141 per cent in the second year of the military takeover, and artillery shelling of communities had increased by over 100 per cent. Incidents in which homes and neighbourhoods were set on fire had risen by 380 per cent in the second year after the coup, leading to an estimated 1,200 per cent increase in the number of homes destroyed. Since the military takeover, some 39,000 structures had been burned, and people unable to flee risked being burned to death. The more than 1.3 million people displaced since the coup began faced destitution. At least 2,947 civilians had been killed by the military since 2021, including 244 children. More than one third of these confirmed deaths occurred in military custody. Cases had been reported of some armed groups attacking and killing civilians perceived to be working for or with the military. These acts constituted murder and needed to be condemned. It was imperative that the military respected the Security Council’s December resolution, and took steps to end the violence.

On 1 February 2023, the military extended the state of emergency, subjecting civilians to the expanded jurisdiction of military tribunals, with no right to appeal – even upon imposition of the death penalty. Since February 2021, at least 17,572 people had been arrested (including 381 children) with 13,763 remaining in detention. Across the country, 17.6 million people now needed humanitarian assistance, and over 15.2 million faced acute food insecurity.

The Rohingya community still remaining in Myanmar continued to face widespread discrimination. At least 3,500 Rohingya attempted sea crossings in 2022– a 360 per cent increase from 2021. At least 348 of them had died or had gone missing at sea. Mr. Türk appealed to all countries to provide support to people fleeing Myanmar, and to their host communities. There needed to be increased international support, and the continuing proceedings before both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court warranted every support. Mr. Türk remained concerned by the prospect of new elections taking place in Myanmar and the arbitrary detention of elected political leaders in February 2021. He called on the Council to do its best to deliver humanitarian support directly to Myanmar’s people, and called on United Nations Member States to promote dialogue and sustainable solutions to bring an end to this brutal crisis.

Discussion on Myanmar

In the discussion, some speakers said, among other things, that since the 1 February 2021 coup, the military had brought Myanmar into a perpetual human rights crisis through continuous human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law, some of which may amount to international crimes. The consistent tactics and patterns of abuse underscored the military’s responsibility for these violations, including indiscriminate airstrikes and artillery attacks against populated areas, village raids and burnings, arbitrary arrests, use of torture, extrajudicial killings, killing of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, military use of schools, sexual and gender-based violence, severe restrictions of fundamental freedoms and many more, with persons belonging to ethnic or religious minorities such as the Rohingya bearing the brunt.

Several speakers expressed continued support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ five-point consensus, recalling Security Council resolution 26/69 (2022), and demanded an immediate end to all forms of violence throughout the country. United Nations Security Council resolution 26/69 called for the regime to end its violence across the country, release arbitrarily detained prisoners, allow unhindered humanitarian access, protect members of minority groups, and respect the will and democratic aspirations of the people of Myanmar, and there were as yet no signs of results in this direction. Speakers also called for the release of all arbitrarily detained prisoners, the provision of full and unhindered humanitarian access, and the protection of civilians in Myanmar. Further calls were also made for an international arms embargo and targeted economic action to prevent the flow of weapons to the military.

The situation in Rakhine state continued to be tense and fragile, speakers noted. Addressing the root causes of the Rohingya crisis was of paramount important in pursuing a durable resolution to the crisis. Both in Myanmar and beyond, the Rohingyas had become more vulnerable to various discrimination, violence, radicalisation and trafficking. The authorities in Myanmar were urged to fully cooperate with international mechanisms, including the Special Envoys of the Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as those established by this Council, and to step up their efforts to create conducive conditions that would facilitate safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation, including by ensuring justice and accountability.

The international community was urged to apply stronger pressure on the Government of Myanmar, and to stand together to demand an end to the violence and seek a peaceful reconciliation to the crisis. One speaker said the Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court without delay. The international concerns for a peaceful and prosperous Myanmar must go hand in hand with fulfilling the rights of minorities. All parties should refrain from further violence and the Myanmar authorities should allow access for humanitarian assistance, including through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management. International cooperation should be strengthened to prevent further displacement and find a sustainable solution. Space should be made to ensure a democratic and fruitful dialogue, with the participation of all parties.

One speaker spoke of regret that Myanmar had not participated in the discussion, stressing respect for its sovereignty. Some speakers said all parties should speak and work in order to help the parties in Myanmar overcome their divergences and problems in order to overcome their differences, and the international community should respect the territorial integrity and national unity of Myanmar in resolving the situation. Dialogue and reconciliation must be the way forward. To not listen to the State concerned precluded hearing about its efforts and the progress made on the ground. Another speaker called for an end to all unilateral coercive measures imposed on Myanmar, which caused immense suffering to the people on the ground.

For a peaceful future, a vibrant and diverse civil society was indispensable, and there was deep concern about the ongoing repression of civil society organizations in Myanmar. Civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, were being monitored, restricted and harassed. The Organization Registration Act that was introduced last year was another blow for civic space, and a speaker applauded Myanmar’s civilian organizations for their courage and resilience. Their work was indispensable for accountability, women empowerment, and giving youth in Myanmar a voice to shape their future. One speaker pointed out that international human rights mechanisms should, however, operate whilst respecting the sovereignty and territoriality of States, and a genuine concern for human rights was required for human rights without politicisation or bias, operating through cooperation with the Government and repudiation of all unilateral coercive measures and other measures imposed upon the country.

What measures could be taken to reduce violence against civilians and human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar, as well as to ensure accountability for past and ongoing crimes, a speaker asked? Another asked how could the international community help support civil society and human rights defenders under threat in Myanmar? The international community had an obligation to restore even a sliver of hope. Would the High Commissioner recommend that the international community recognise the National Unity Government as the true Government of Myanmar, a speaker asked? How could the international community support Myanmar’s diverse democratic movement to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights, another speaker asked? How could the international community continue to support civil society organizations that were active in Myanmar under these circumstances, so they survived and played their essential role in the future of Myanmar, another speaker asked?

Concluding Remarks

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said this was an extremely troubling situation: Myanmar was in free-fall, and the international community had to respond in the most effective way possible. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ five-point plan, Security Council resolution 26/69, and the Human Rights Council resolutions set out the expectations of the international community, as well as the benchmarks for a solution. The solution against this background was set out, and the international community needed to look at how these various documents had been disrespected by the authorities. Those Member States with any influence over the authorities should work to ensure that there was a change in the country that brought it back to the plight of the people. This required a coordinated and unified approach, and a number of things could be done in addition to what had been said.

There needed to be an end to arms being sold, and economic measures. The international community must not be engaged in supporting any electoral process that lacked the ability to ensure the participation of all the people of the country in peace and security. Those involved in civil society and national human rights defenders needed to be seen as key interlocutors for any solution. Regarding accountability for past and present human rights violations, this was key to any solution to the crisis, and whatever emerged as a solution would have to have inherent in it transitional justice. Member States could look at universal jurisdiction for crimes committed in Myanmar. There should be full support, politically- and funding-wise, for the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

The Rohingya, as well as the countries hosting them, required continued support by the international community. The Government of National Unity and all other representatives of Myanmar civil society must be involved in all attempts to restore democracy and ensure fair elections. The threat to civil society organizations was really existential, human rights defenders faced a myriad of issues, problems and potential risks, and it was vital to continue to alert the world of these risks. Donors should look at flexible and creative means of funding for human rights defenders and civil society organizations to ensure that their work continued, including resettlement and even witness protection.

Interactive Dialogue with the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua

Report

The Council has before it the report by the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua (A/HRC/52/63)

Presentation of the Report

JAN-MICHAEL SIMON, Chair of the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua, presented the conclusions of the investigations carried out by the group over the past year. The Group had investigated alleged human rights abuses and violations committed in Nicaragua since April 2018, to ensure accountability and justice for the victims. The Group had used methodology which included the collection of information from victims and witnesses, as well as the review of judicial records and verified audio visual material. Thanks to technological progress, the team was able to collect information securely and confidentially, including from sources still inside Nicaragua. During the investigation, the Group investigated 149 cases, received more than 150 confidential documents, processed and classified almost 1,500 documents, and conducted 291 face-to-face and remote interviews. Five missions were carried out to areas near the territory of Nicaragua. It had not been possible to carry out investigatory activities in the territory of Nicaragua since access had not been granted by the Nicaraguan Government. Between June and December 2022, 12 communications were sent to the Government of Nicaragua, to request a country visit, open channels of dialogue, and for data and information. The report was sent to the Government for comment before publishing it, but no response had been received, which was regretful. The Group remained open to channels of cooperation and dialogue with Nicaragua.

Based on the information analysed, Mr. Simon said that the Group concluded that serious and systematic human rights violations and abuses of human rights took place in Nicaragua during the period covered by the report, perpetuated by government representatives, and those from pro-government groups. Violations included extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, torture and cruel treatment including acts of sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary deprivation of nationality, and violations of the right to remain in the country, among others. These violations were perpetrated against genuine and perceived opponents of the Nicaraguan Government. The Expert Group concluded that the violations were committed as pattern of behaviour which was generalised and systematic. These violations constituted crimes against humanity. These crimes against humanity were committed within the framework of a discriminatory policy against part of the population of Nicaragua, for political motives, intentionally organised from the highest levels of government.

Mr. Simon said that the prevailing impunity for the crimes facilitated the escalation of violence. The conclusions reached by the Group were sufficient to justify further investigations. It was recommended that the Nicaraguan authorities immediately release all persons arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, and put an immediate end to violations, abuses and crimes, including persecution for politically motivated reasons. The State should also ensure accountability for victims and implement the necessary measures to guarantee the separation of powers. Nicaragua should cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It was hoped the independent inquiry could bring victims closer to justice.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Nicaragua, speaking as the country concerned, said the Government of reconciliation and national unity wished to formally indicate that it had not nor would it ever accept the unilateral appointment of the Members of the Group of Experts in any way, shape or form. This group was nothing less than a smokescreen in order to allow the fabrication of facts. The input to it came from certain opposition elements in the country that were putting forth false narratives directed by imperialist powers with the aim of interfering in the nation. No reports were accepted, as they ran counter to the over-arching interests of the State, which was aiming to ensure human rights across the board. Nicaragua did not wish these reports to continue to undermine its institutions and legal order. The reports did not reflect the most basic progress, such as in education, women’s rights, and poverty reduction. Any recommendations put forward lacked objectivity and were tantamount to coercion, since they undermined the efforts of all Nicaraguans. Nicaragua was strengthened in its resolve to achieve the highest levels of democratic success, respecting international law and defending it, and called for equal consideration for all.

Discussion on Nicaragua

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed, among other things, outrage for the serious and systematic human rights violations laid out in the reports, including crimes against humanity. The report left no doubt regarding the grave seriousness of the human rights situation in Nicaragua, which continued to deteriorate, and could lead to an even graver humanitarian crisis. The Government should work to ensure the human rights of all Nicaraguans, and ensure accountability and justice for all for the human rights violations listed in the report, including allegations of torture and grave violations of civil and political rights.

There was also concern for the disappearance of indigenous persons, and the instrumentalisation of the legislative system to ensure impunity. The authorities should grant access to the country for the Group of Experts, and resume collaboration with it and other international bodies. The international community should not forget that arbitrary detention and the inhumane treatment of political prisoners were not the only instruments by which civil society and human rights defenders were persecuted in the country. The authorities should put an end to any such measures, to restore the fundamental rights of denaturalised dissidents, to stop human rights violations, to restore democracy and to re-engage with the international community. Impunity for human rights violations must end, and all restrictions on civic space must end, with all persons granted the rights of assembly, dissent and expression.

Multiple speakers welcomed the release of 222 political prisoners by the Government of Nicaragua, but remained gravely concerned about the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law, noting that following their expulsion, the regime stripped these individuals, as well as 94 others of their citizenship and reportedly seized their property in Nicaragua. These deplorable acts signalled a significant step backward for the Nicaraguan people and were inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provided that everyone had a right to a nationality.

The conclusion of the Group of Experts that crimes may have been committed as part of a policy emitting from the highest spheres of Government against certain parts of the population was of grave concern, and there should be full and fair investigations ensuring accountability, justice and reparations for victims. Laws should be repealed limiting access to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The authorities’ refusal to appear before the Committee against Torture last July was deplored, and speakers urged Nicaragua to resume cooperation with the various United Nations mechanisms which had requested access to the country. Another speaker asked how the international community could help the Group of Experts to achieve its mandate and meet its objectives.

The work of the Experts was appreciated, and speakers asked, among other things, what could be done to support the work of civil society organizations within the country? One speaker appealed to the Council to renew the mandate of the Group.

Source: UN Human Rights Council

Eight EU Nations Seek Tougher Borders to Prevent ‘Migration Crisis’

VIENNA, AUSTRIA — Eight EU nations called on Brussels to significantly toughen the bloc’s borders to “prevent another large-scale migration crisis,” according to a letter seen by AFP ahead of a key summit.

The overall tone on migration has hardened in Europe since 2015-2016, when it took in over a million asylum-seekers, most of them Syrians fleeing the war in their country.

Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia sent the letter dated Monday to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel.

They said it was “high time” for a “comprehensive European… approach for all relevant migratory routes” to tackle irregular migration.

The letter called for “additional financial support” within the existing budget to enhance “relevant operational and technical measures for effective border control”.

It also urged “significantly increasing swift returns of third country nationals” and concluding new partnerships and safe third country arrangements.

Some member states are facing “levels of arrivals and applications equivalent to, or higher than, those seen during the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016,” the letter added.

At the end of January, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said she was confident that asylum reform — under discussion since September 2020 — would be adopted before the European elections in 2024.

The EU has earmarked six billion euros to protect its borders for the 2021-2027 period.

Several countries, including Austria, have called for EU funding to strengthen fences along the bloc’s external borders to reduce the flow of asylum-seekers.

But the commission has so far been reluctant, saying that “building walls and barbed wire” is not the right solution.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last month that member states could sign up to a pilot scheme over the first half of this year to speed up screening and asylum procedures for eligible migrants — and “immediate return” for those not deemed to qualify.

Von der Leyen said she wanted the EU to draw up a list of “safe countries of origin”, and for the bloc to strengthen border monitoring on the Mediterranean and Western Balkans routes migrants use to get to Europe.

Source: Voice of America

Security Council Deems Syria’s Chemical Weapons Declaration Incomplete, Urges Nation to Close Issues, Resolve Gaps, Inconsistencies and Discrepancies

Syria’s full cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is essential to closing all outstanding issues related to its initial and subsequent declarations, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today during its monthly briefing on implementation of resolution 2118 (2013) on elimination of the country’s chemical weapons programme, highlighting that long-standing identified gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies remain unresolved.

Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that, since the Council’s last consideration of the matter, efforts by the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team to clarify outstanding issues regarding Syria’s initial and subsequent declarations have failed to progress.As such, given the unresolved gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies, the OPCW Technical Secretariat assesses that the declaration submitted by Syria still cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, she said.

She voiced regret over the continued lack of success by the OPCW Technical Secretariat to organize the next round of consultations between the Assessment Team and the Syrian National Authority, and that the Technical Secretariat has also not received declarations or documents that could help resolve 20 outstanding issues that have been pending since 2019.Nonetheless, a reduced team of the Assessment Team was deployed to Syria from 17 to 23 January to conduct limited activities not extending to technical consultations with the Syrian National Authority.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat continues to plan the next round of inspections of the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre, slated for 2023, she went on.She expressed further regret that Syria has yet to provide sufficient technical information or explanations that will enable them to close the issue related to the detection of a Schedule 2 chemical at the Barzah facilities of the Centre in November 2018. On the unauthorized movement of two cylinders related to the chemical weapon incident that took place in Douma on 7 April 2018, Syria shared on 8 February 2023 pictures from the site where the cylinders were reportedly destroyed, but the Technical Secretariat is still awaiting information related to the unauthorized movement of these cylinders, she said. Turning to the invitation extended by OPCW’s Director-General to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Syria to an in-person meeting, the Technical Secretariat stands ready to engage further on an agenda through the agreed channel.

The OPCW fact-finding mission deployed to Syria from 6 to 12 November 2022, and is presently preparing upcoming deployments, she continued. Meanwhile, the Investigation and Identification Team continues its investigations into incidents in which the fact-finding mission has determined that chemical weapons were used or likely used in Syria, she said, stating that, on 2 February, OPCW’s Director-General and the Identification Team’s Coordinator briefed States parties in The Hague on the Identification Team’s third report.The report concluded that the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for chemical weapons use in an incident in Douma on 7 April 2018, killing at least 43 named individuals and affecting dozens of others.Recalling that the Director-General and Identification Team’s Coordinator subsequently briefed the Council on these findings last month, she said: “It is my sincere hope that members of this Council will unite on this issue and show leadership in demonstrating that impunity in the use of the chemical weapons will not be tolerated.”

In the ensuing debate, many Council members echoed High Representative Nakamitsu’s call on Syria to uphold its obligations under the Convention and cooperate with OPCW.Representatives of the Russian Federation and China, who had previously repeatedly questioned the need for monthly meetings on the chemical weapons file and objected to the Investigation and Identification Team’s working methods, attended the meeting, but did not speak.Meanwhile, many countries commended OPCW’s impartiality and professionalism, but some States emphasized the need for the OPCW to adhere to the principles of non-politicization and consensus in carrying out its work.

The representative of the United States, underscoring that OPCW’s full Declarations Assessment Team should be allowed to return to Syria without delay, recalled that the Council heard in February OPCW’s unequivocal assessment that the Syrian Air Force carried out the 2018 attack on the town of Douma, killing and injuring civilians.Moreover, troops of the Russian Federation operated out of the same airbase from which the attack was carried out. Further, he noted that OPCW has found that the Al-Assad regime used chemical weapons on nine separate occasions, pointing out that the United States has already imposed a raft of sanctions in response. Meanwhile, the Council cannot abdicate its responsibility. “The stakes are simply too high for all of us to do otherwise,” he stressed.

In a similar vein, the representative of the United Kingdom called on the Council to pressure Syria to cooperate with OPCW, given that the country’s chemical weapons programme presents an ongoing threat, as it continues to fail to comply with its obligations.Pointing out that the Douma report also exposed repeated attempts of the Russian Federation to protect the Assad regime from accountability, she recalled that, five years ago, two agents of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation carried out a chemical weapons attack in the United Kingdom, killing a British citizen and injuring others.

The speaker for France, emphasizing that there must be no impunity for war crimes, underscored the impartial and professional work of OPCW and the detailed and convincing presentation of its Director-General in February.“No campaign of disinformation would be able to hide the guilts of the regime,” he stressed, calling on Syria to immediately comply with its obligations.Further, he urged that country to shed light on its stockpiles, adding: “We know that they have not all been destroyed.”

The representative of Mozambique, Council President for March, also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Ghana, took note of the OPCW report issued on 27 January 2023, emphasizing that the involvement of all parties in good faith will allow for progress on the file and eliminate any differences hindering investigations. All sides involved in ongoing investigations must assume their responsibilities and must collaborate with the Investigation and Identification Team so that, once allegations are confirmed, perpetrators can be held accountable and victims alleviated.

For his part, the representative of Iran voiced concern over the exploitation and politicization of the Chemical Weapons Convention and OPCW, which has caused division among Member States and weakened the legitimacy of the disarmament machinery. Asserting that the Investigation and Identification Team’s 27 January report was based on unauthorized sources and disregarded the Syrian Government’s observations, he stressed: “The political approach towards the Syrian file has been a failed strategy, jeopardizing the process aimed at resolving outstanding issues.” Given the lack of progress, monthly meetings on the Syrian chemical weapons file were counterproductive and a waste of the Council’s time, he added.

Syria’s representative emphasized that his country has cooperated with the OPCW in a fully transparent and open manner and destroyed its entire chemical stockpile and production facilities in 2014.He went on to outline examples of his country’s willing engagement with OPCW, including the recent submission of its 111th report on activities conducted on its territory; its reception and assistance to the reduced staff of the Declaration Assessment Team upon its visit in January; and its submission to the OPCW Technical Secretariat pictures of the site where the two chlorine cylinders related to the alleged incident in Douma were destroyed, adding that they were destroyed as a result of an Israeli aggression on the site. “Ignoring the constructive and fruitful cooperation carried out by the Syrian National Authority during the past years, and all the facilities it provided to the various teams of OPCW […] are clear indications of the extent of politicization that dominated the work of OPCW,” he stressed. Meanwhile, terrorists continue to coordinate with the “White Helmets” group, an arm of the Al-Nusra Front, he said, adding: “The persistence of some countries to overlook the serious threat posed by terrorist organizations’ possession of weapons of mass destruction raises serious risks for all Member States.”

Also speaking were representatives of Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Albania, Malta, Japan and Türkiye.

The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:13 p.m.

Briefing

IZUMI NAKAMITSU, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that, since the Council’s last consideration of the matter, efforts by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)’s Declaration Assessment Team to clarify all outstanding issues regarding Syria’s initial and subsequent declarations has failed to progress.Unfortunately, all efforts by the OPCW Technical Secretariat to organize the next round of consultations between the Assessment Team and the Syrian National Authority continue to be unsuccessful.While the OPCW Technical Secretariat has provided Syria with a list of pending declarations and other documents requested by the Assessment Team since 2019 that could help resolve 20 outstanding issues, they have not yet received any declarations or documents.Nonetheless, a reduced team comprised of some members of the Assessment Team deployed to conduct limited in-country activities in the Syrian Arab Republic from 17 to 22 January 2023, she said, adding that its activities did not involve any technical consultations with the Syrian National Authority.

Reiterating that Syria’s full cooperation with the OPCW Technical Secretariat is essential to closing all outstanding issues, she repeated that, considering identified gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies that remain unresolved, the OPCW Technical Secretariat assesses that the declaration submitted by that country still cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.Turning to inspections of the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre, she noted that the OPCW Technical Secretariat continues to plan the next round of inspections, slated for 2023, but voiced regret that Syria has yet to provide sufficient technical information or explanations that would enable them to close the issue related to the detection of a Schedule 2 chemical at the Barzah facilities of the Centre in November 2018.On the unauthorized movement of the two cylinders related to the chemical weapon incident that took place in Douma on 7 April 2018, Syria shared on 8 February 2023 pictures from the site where the cylinders were reportedly destroyed, but the Technical Secretariat is still awaiting information related to the unauthorized movement of these cylinders, she said.On the invitation extended by OPCW’s Director-General to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Syria to an in-person meeting, the Technical Secretariat stands ready to engage further on an agenda through the agreed channel.Further, she added that the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) continues to provide support to the OPCW mission in Syria, in line with the Tripartite Agreement, whose extension is in force up to 30 June 2023.

Turning to the activities of the OPCW fact-finding mission, she said it deployed to Syria from 6 to 12 November 2022, and is presently preparing upcoming deployments.The Investigation and Identification Team also continues its investigations into incidents in which the fact-finding mission has determined that chemical weapons were used or likely used in Syria, she went on.On 2 February 2023, the Director-General of OPCW and the Identification Team’s Coordinator briefed States Parties in The Hague on the Identification Team’s third report, in which it concluded that the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for chemical weapons use in an incident in Douma on 7 April 2018, killing at least 43 named individuals and affecting dozens of others, following which they also briefed the Council last month.Underscoring the need to identify and hold accountable anyone responsible for the use of chemical weapons in grave violation of international law, she said:“It is my sincere hope that members of this Council will unite on this issue and show leadership in demonstrating that impunity in the use of the chemical weapons will not be tolerated.”

Statements

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) said the Council must seek accountability for the heinous acts perpetrated by the regime of Syria’s President, Bashar Al-Assad.Syria must comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and resolution 2118 (2013), and verifiably complete the destruction of its weapons programme.OPCW’s full Declarations Assessment Team should be allowed to return to Syria without delay, and the regime must account for all its longstanding omissions without delay.The Council heard in February OPCW’s unequivocal assessment that the Syrian Air Force carried out the 2018 attack on the town of Douma, killing and injuring civilians, and that troops of the Russian Federation operated out of the same airbase from which the attack was carried out.Noting that the OPCW has found that the Al-Assad regime used chemical weapons on nine separate occasions, he said the United States has already imposed a raft of sanctions in response, and called on others to do likewise.He voiced support for work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism in Syria — which has already led to convictions of former regime officials in Europe — and said his delegation looks forward to more convictions, including, potentially, in the United States.Meanwhile, the Council cannot abdicate its responsibility.“The stakes are simply too high for all of us to do otherwise,” he stressed.

HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) called on Syrian authorities to comply with their obligations and undertake cooperation with OPCW.He expressed regret that, despite efforts made since 2019 to clarify outstanding issues, there continued to be inconsistencies, urging Syria to respond promptly to all outstanding issues.Reiterating support to OPCW and its Technical and Investigation Team, he said he looked forward to results from the visit of the reduced Declaration Assessment Team.Noting that conclusions of the third report of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team established the existence of sufficient grounds to point to the Syrian Air Force as having carried out the chemical attack in Douma in 2018, he said there can be no impunity for those responsible.He went on to reiterate Ecuador’s rejection of the production, storage and use of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.

ALICE JACOBS (United Kingdom), commending the Investigation and Identification Team’s integrity and professionalism in reaching its conclusions through rigorous scientific methodology, said the Douma report has also exposed repeated attempts of the Russian Federation to protect the Assad regime from accountability.The reprehensible scapegoating of the White Helmets is aimed at deflecting attention, she stressed, recalling that five years ago, two agents of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation carried out a chemical weapons attack in the United Kingdom, killing a British citizen and injuring others.Pointing out that Douma represents the ninth attributed instance of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime, she said it could use chemical weapons again.“The outstanding issues on Syria’s declaration are neither academic nor historic,” she stressed, adding that, while Syria continues to fail to comply with its obligations, its chemical weapons programme presents an ongoing threat.Against this backdrop, she called on the Council to continue bringing pressure on Syria to cooperate with OPCW.

LUÍS GUILHERME PARGA CINTRA (Brazil) said his Government announced the donation of water purifiers and 7 tons of nutritious, dehydrated foods to Syria in response to the recent, devastating earthquake.Pointing out that the findings of the Investigation and Identification Team are “extremely serious”, he said they must be subject to an impartial analysis in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.While he outlined concerns about the process that led to the establishment of the Team and questions regarding the challenges it faced in its mandate implementation, he acknowledged the gravity of its conclusions.Condemning the use of any chemical weapons, anywhere, by anyone and under any circumstances, he said the use of threats to utilize any weapons of mass destruction are incompatible with international humanitarian law.Expressing hope that Syrian authorities and OPCW can engage in cooperation to clarify episodes of chemical weapons use and address outstanding questions regarding Syria’s declared chemical arsenal of and its destruction, he said this cooperation is essential to close the “Syrian chemical file”.

ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland), welcoming that some members of the Declarations Assessment Team were able to visit Syria from 17 to 22 January and carry out limited activities, expressed hope that the visit can serve as a first step towards Syria’s renewed and full cooperation with OPCW.Reaffirming his country’s confidence in that Organisation and all its missions, whose integrity and professionalism are beyond doubt, he said Syria, like all States parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, is obliged to accept OPCW-designated personnel, provide them with immediate and unhindered access and the right to inspect all sites.It has been almost 10 years since Syria, at the Council’s unanimous instigation, submitted its initial declaration to OPCW.To date, 20 points of the declaration remain outstanding.Syria must provide the necessary responses to the OPCW Technical Secretariat, in accordance with the decisions of OPCW’s political bodies, he stressed, emphasizing that the Convention’s obligations have been repeatedly violated in Syria and recalling last month’s revelations on the 2018 Douma incident, whose perpetrators must be held to account.

MAISOON ALDAH (United Arab Emirates) reiterated her country’s firm condemnation and rejection of the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances, adding that such acts constitute flagrant violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention and international law.She reiterated the need to address pending issues between the Syrian authorities and OPCW, underscoring the need to abide by technical principles upon which that body was established, which include consensus and non-politicization.Noting that her country hoped that details about the deployment of the reduced team to Damascus will be included in the OPCW report, she looked forward to reading those in the report to be issued at the end of the month.She emphasized the continued risk and threat posed to Syria by the use of such weapons by terrorist groups, including Da’esh, as evinced by that group’s recent attacks in Homs, in the east, which lead to the deaths of 53 people.She further underlined the importance of making progress on the chemical weapons file, and on all files related to resolving the Syrian crisis.

ARIAN SPASSE (Albania), endorsing findings of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team, said that the use of chemical weapons should not go unpunished.“Our silence in the face of these abominable crimes can be mistaken as an incentive for the use of these weapons,” he added.Reiterating his concerns over continuing gaps and discrepancies in Syria’s initial statement, he deplored the non-cooperative approach of the regime with the OPCW Technical Secretariat.“There is no other solution than Syria’s full and effective cooperation with OPCW,” he stressed.Commending OPCW’s ability to respond to allegations of chemical weapons’ use, he said Albania was looking forward to the meeting of the OPCW Director-General and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Syria.Turning to funding for the reduced Declaration Assessment Team’s visit to Syria, he said he also awaited the results of the ninth round of inspections at the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities, carried out in September 2022.

DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta) said his delegation has full confidence that OPCW’s latest report was drafted adhering to best practices of international fact-finding bodies and commissions of investigation, as well as applicable OPCW procedures.Voicing full support for the Organisation’s independent, unbiased and expert work, he said any unfounded claims aimed at undermining its credibility or questioning its findings must not go unchallenged.He regretted that the Syrian authorities failed to grant access to the sites of the Douma incident, despite their obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and resolution 2118 (2013).“This follows an unfortunate pattern of behaviour by Syria on this file,” he said, also voicing regret that pending declarations and other documents requested by the Declaration Assessment Team since 2019 have not yet been provided.Among other things, he strongly encouraged the renewed extension of the Tripartite Agreement between OPCW, the United Nations and Syria, which is due to expire on 30 June.

HAMAMOTO YUKIYA (Japan), expressing his delegation’s support for the impartial, independent and professional work of OPCW and its Technical Secretariat, agreed with other speakers that the use of chemical weapons should never be tolerated anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstance.He recalled that the recently released third report of the Investigation and Identification Team concluded that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Force perpetrated the chemical weapons attacks in Douma in 2018.Condemning such attacks, he said it also remains regrettable that little concrete progress has been registered on the current file, and Syria’s declaration still cannot be considered accurate and complete.He also deplored the lack of progress in organizing a high-level meeting between the OPCW Director-General and Syria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as the next round of consultations between the Declaration Assessment Team and the Syrian National Authority.“A reduced team without any technical consultations with the Syrian National Authority can never be considered sufficient,” he stressed, reiterating calls on the latter to guarantee full and unhindered access to OPCW staff and urging it to engage in good faith.

NICOLAS DE REVIÈRE (France) called on the Syrian regime to immediately comply with its obligations, urging it to shed light on its stockpiles, while adding:“We know that they have not all been destroyed.”Taking note of the limited deployment of OPCW teams to Syria, he said France is awaiting the forthcoming report.Pointing out that Syria has consistently hindered the work of OPCW, he said the responsibility lies entirely with the Syrian regime.In this regard, commending the impartial and professional work of OPCW, he recalled a detailed and convincing presentation of its Director-General.“No campaign of disinformation would be able to hide the guilts of the regime,” he stressed, underscoring that exposing the truth is essential in holding the perpetrators accountable.Emphasizing that there must be no impunity for war crimes, he added that the fight against impunity is the foundation of the effectiveness and credibility of the prohibition regime.

PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), Security Council President for March, also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Ghana, took note of the OPCW report issued on 27 January 2023, and called on all sides involved in ongoing investigations to assume their responsibilities.They should collaborate with the Investigation and Identification Team, so that, once allegations are confirmed, perpetrators can be held accountable and victims alleviated.Welcoming cooperation between Syria and OPCW on the mission of the latter’s limited group of experts, he emphasized that the involvement of all parties in good faith will allow for progress on the file and eliminate any differences hindering investigations.He went on to advocate for greater commitment and more partnerships among States on matters related to disarmament, underlining his opposition to the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances.Expressing his commitment to the established norms against the use of chemical weapons and all efforts to rid their production, storage or use, he urged the early closure of the Syria’s chemical weapons programme to contribute to international peace and security.

BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) said his country first witnessed the use of chemical weapons when terrorist groups fired a shell carrying toxic chemicals in Khan al-Assal, in Aleppo governorate, killing 25 people and injuring 110 others.In 2013, the Government took the strategic and voluntary decision to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention.Syria was one of the first countries to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has signed the Biological Weapons Convention and actively contributes to efforts to establish a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.Emphasizing that Syria has repeatedly expressed its categorical condemnation of the use of chemical weapons anytime, anywhere, by anyone and under any circumstances, he said it has cooperated with OPCW in a fully transparent and open manner.Moreover, it destroyed its entire chemical stockpile and production facilities in 2014.

Pointing out that the Syrian National Authority recently submitted its 111th report regarding activities conducted on its territory, he added that the country received the reduced staff of the Declaration Assessment Team in January and facilitated visits to some sites to collect samples and interview witnesses.Among other examples of its willing engagement, he said the Syrian National Authority’s focal point still stands ready to communicate with its counterpart in OPCW to prepare for a high-level meeting.The authorities also recently provided the OPCW Technical Secretariat with pictures of the site where the two chlorine cylinders related to the alleged incident in Duma were destroyed, and which were destroyed as a result of an Israeli aggression on the site — a violation of Syria’s sovereignty.“Ignoring the constructive and fruitful cooperation carried out by the Syrian National Authority during the past years, and all the facilities it provided to the various teams of OPCW […] are clear indications of the extent of politicization that dominated the work of OPCW,” he stressed.Unprofessional reports issued by the OPCW Technical Secretariat, which are based on information that does not enjoy credibility, and did not follow the methodology stipulated in the Chemical Weapons Convention, have allowed Western countries to use the Organisation as a platform to target Syria.Meanwhile, terrorists continue to coordinate with the “White Helmets” group, an arm of Al-Nusra Front, he said, also outlining coordination with other terrorist factions.“The persistence of some countries to overlook the serious threat posed by terrorist organizations’ possession of weapons of mass destruction raises serious risks for all Member States,” he stressed, calling for action and an end to the issue’s politicization.

AMIR SAEID IRAVANI (Iran) said that, as the main victim of chemical weapons attacks, his country condemns the use of such weapons as a crime against humanity and a blatant violation of international law.This is why the Iranian people will never forget how Western countries supported the Saddam Hussein regime in its systematic use of chemical weapons against them, he added.Noting that Syria has fulfilled its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and cooperates with OPCW, he voiced concern over the exploitation and politicization of the Convention and OPCW, causing division among Member States and weakening the credibility and legitimacy of the disarmament machinery.The Investigation and Identification Team’s 27 January report, like its previous ones, was based on unauthorized sources and lacked required legal conclusions, while disregarding the Syrian Government’s observations, he said, adding:“The political approach towards the Syrian file has been a failed strategy, jeopardizing the process aimed at resolving outstanding issues.”Further, applying double standards will only distract from the technical nature of discussions, he said, emphasizing that any investigation must be impartial, professional, credible, objective, and comply with the Convention’s procedures.In addition, he stressed that holding monthly meetings on the Syrian chemical weapons file, despite no developments being made, is counterproductive and a waste of the Council’s time.

CEREN HANDE ÖZGÜR (Türkiye), recalling that the OPCW Secretariat is still waiting for responses to its inquiries regarding the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons production facilities, said that, due to identified gaps and discrepancies, the OPCW cannot consider the regime’s declaration accurate and complete.In this regard, she called on the regime to cooperate with the OPCW Technical Team and submit pending declarations and documents.Commending the work of the Technical Secretariat, she welcomed its efforts to deliver, using new and alternative methods when facing hurdles.In these efforts, the OPCW needs the Council’s support, not its discouragement, she added.Turning to forthcoming reports on visits conducted by the reduced Declaration Assessment Team, she said investigations are important to establish the truth about chemical weapons use in Syria.Recalling that the use of chemical weapons is a violation of humanitarian law, she said that ending impunity is a collective responsibility of the Council for hundreds of innocent lives lost due to chemical attacks in Syria.“We cannot change the past, but we do have the power the change the course of the future for the people of Syria,” she added.

Source: UN Security Council