Let me begin by expressing Switzerland's deepest condolences to the families of the thousands of victims of the earthquake that struck Türkiye and Syria.
This disaster of a magnitude unprecedented in decades adds to the already acute humanitarian crises affecting the region. Switzerland stands by the victims and their families. Switzerland stands by the victims and their families, and we hope that as many people as possible can still be saved in the coming hours.
On April 7, 2018 other grave events claimed innocent Syrian victims in Douma, a suburb of Damascus. On that day, 43 civilians, - 7 men, 17 women, 9 boys and 10 girls - died as a result of a chlorine gas attack. We know from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that this was not an accident, but a deliberate attack using chemical weapons, which is prohibited by international law.
Over the past decade, obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention have been violated repeatedly in Syria. This is further demonstrated by the third report of the Investigation and Identification Team of January 27, which focuses on the attack in Douma in April 2018.
The OPCW report, for which I would like to thank the Director General, Mr. Arias, and Mr. Oñate, head of the Investigation and Identification Team, presents the following facts. It documents that on April 7, 2018 at least one helicopter of the Syrian Arab Republic dropped two cylinders that hit residential buildings in Douma. From these cylinders chlorine gas was released. This gas acts on several body systems - the skin and mucous membranes, the digestive tract and the respiratory system, where it is absorbed by the lungs - giving us an idea of the fate of those affected. The OPCW concludes that "there are reasonable grounds to believe” that the perpetrators of this attack were members of the air force of the Syrian Arab Republic at the time of the incident. Thus, to date, 9 of the approximately 25 chemical attacks documented by the UN and OPCW in Syria have been attributed to the Syrian government.
Switzerland fully supports the conclusions of this report. We have full confidence in the OPCW, including the Investigation and Identification Team. Their work is fundamental. Their professionalism and integrity are not in doubt.
Switzerland condemns the use of chemical weapons, including in Douma in 2018. We call on all parties to refrain from using such weapons and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. We join the Secretary-General's repeated calls for accountability for the use of such weapons.
Fact-finding is crucial to prevent further attacks and impunity for these crimes. In this regard, we welcome the formal cooperation between the OPCW and the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria, which we fully support. This cooperation is in line with the wishes of the Security Council, which, in unanimously adopting Resolution 2118 ten years ago, expressed its "firm belief that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria must be held accountable."
We call on Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW, to accept OPCW-designated personnel, and to provide immediate and unhindered access to all sites.
We hope that the recent visit of the reduced format of the Declarations Assessment Team, whose report is expected in March, marks the resumption of Syria's full cooperation with the OPCW.
As the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Nakamitsu, whom I thank, has just reminded us, Syria must provide the OPCW Secretariat with answers to the 20 outstanding points so that its initial declaration can be verified. We also note that the OPCW Secretariat is, as of 15 July 2021, awaiting all relevant information from Syria regarding the unauthorized movement and destruction of the two cylinders used in the Douma attack.
In conclusion, I would like to remind us of the 43 victims of the use of chemical weapons in Douma: it is, also in their memory, our duty to ensure that these weapons are never used again - by anyone, at any time and in any circumstances.