NEW YORK, OCTOBER 23 – The Security Council is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on a draft resolution that would renew the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for an additional year. Most Council members strongly support the work of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the OPCW, which determines whether chemical weapons have been used, and of the Council-mandated JIM, which assigns attribution for the use of chemical weapons.
However, ahead of the vote, Russia has expressed strong reservations about the methodology employed by both the FFM and the JIM and has argued that a vote should not occur before the release of the JIM’s report regarding responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Um Housh and Khan Shaykhun, expected on 26 October. In private, it has said that it would veto the draft.
In August, the US suggested an early renewal of the JIM (whose mandate expires on 17 November) in order to delink the negotiations on its renewal from the final conclusions of the JIM’s investigation of the incidents mentioned above. Regarding the 16 September 2016 attack in Um Housh, the Fact-Finding Mission has concluded that two victims had been exposed to sulfur mustard. Although unable to ascertain the dispersion mechanism used in the Khan Shaykhun attack of 4 April 2017, the FFM has stated that there is “incontrovertible evidence” that a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance used as a chemical weapon.
According to its report, the FFM did not conduct an on-site visit because “the security risks associated with a deployment to Khan Shaykhun far outweighed any additional corroboration of the facts that have already been established”(S/2017/400).
The US appears to be wary of what it views as the potential for increased politicisation of the work of the JIM with anticipated criticisms of the report’s findings by Russia. “The Russians have made it very clear that should the report blame the Syrians, suddenly they won’t have faith in [the] JIM. If the report doesn’t blame the Syrians, then they say that they will. It would be a shame if Russia chose to have an investigative mechanism based on who was to blame in Khan Shaykhun,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley said at a recent Security Council stake-out. (@OnuItalia)