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April 9, 2018 1:04 pm

Despite Serial Use of Chemical Weapons, Syrian Regime to Chair UN Conference on Disarmament Next Month

avatar by Ben Cohen

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Children in the Syrian town of Douma receiving emergency treatment following a toxic gas attack, April 7, 2018. Photo: White Helmets via Reuters.

The Syrian regime is to preside over a UN conference on disarmament next month, despite its consistent use of chemical weapons during a seven-year-old civil war — most recently on Saturday, when at least 42 people, including many children, were killed in a suspected toxic gas attack on the town of Douma that left many victims struggling to breathe and foaming at the mouth.

The Geneva-based NGO UN Watch said on Monday that it was calling on ambassadors from the US, the EU and other democracies to walk out of the UN’s Conference on Disarmament in Geneva during the four weeks when the Syrian regime’s envoy, Hussam Edin Aala, serves as president of the conference.

“Having the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad preside over global chemical and nuclear weapons disarmament will be like putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter,” Hillel Neuer — executive director of UN Watch — declared in a statement.

Neuer said his organization was urging the UN “to understand that at a time when Syria is gassing its own men, women, and children to death, to see Syria heading the world body that is supposed to protect these victims will simply shock the conscience of humanity.”

Established in 1979, the Conference on Disarmament meets annually in Geneva for three separate sessions that each last several weeks. While the conference is not formally a part of the UN’s institutional architecture, the post of secretary-general is held by a senior UN official– currently Michael Møller, a veteran Danish diplomat.

Key treaties regarding the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) — including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the prohibitions on the use of chemical and biological weapons — have been negotiated through the conference and its predecessor organizations. Currently, 65 states are full members of the conference, including the US and Israel.

Syria is scheduled to preside over the conference during its second session, from May 28 until June 24.

Syria’s regional rival, Turkey, will meanwhile preside over the final session of the conference beginning in August — despite accusations from human rights groups and others of war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons, committed by Turkish forces during their recent assault on the Kurdish-held Afrin district in northern Syria.

While the Syrian presidency of the conference is due to the automatic rotation of member states, Neuer argued that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was nonetheless obliged to speak out “when a UN committee makes obscene decisions which only cast a shadow on the reputation of the UN as a whole.”

Neuer said that Syria’s presidency of the conference would likely be “exploited by Syrian propaganda, as they have done after other UN elections, to legitimize [President Bashar] al-Assad’s cruel regime.”

The controversy over Syria’s role comes amid expressions of strong concern from senior UN officials at the conference’s general lack of achievement since a landmark treaty in 1996.

“The Conference on Disarmament has been deadlocked since the agreement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, more than two decades ago,” Miroslav Lajčák, the President of the UN General Assembly, remarked in February. “We have to address this reality.”

Away from the UN’s deliberations, a prominent Israeli military analyst said on Monday that Israel’s reported strike on an Assad regime air base in central Syria early Monday had sent “a moral message that using chemical weapons is not acceptable.”

Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin — a former IDF intelligence chief who now serves as executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) — added that it was important “that Israel make its voice heard” in opposing the use of chemical weapons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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