While well-intentioned, this latest gambit at an "independent" investigation with "unfettered access" is likely to fail
UN Launches Investigation Into Syrian Chemical Weapons Allegations
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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced yesterday at a hastily arranged press briefing that he decided to launch an independent investigation into allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, after receiving a formal request for such an investigation from the Syrian government. “My announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity,” Mr. Ban said in his press briefing. He told reporters that the investigation will start “as soon as practically possible.”
The Secretary General requested the Syrian government to provide additional information pertaining to the alleged incident. He also said the mission would require full cooperation from all relevant Syrian authorities and stressed the need for “unfettered access.”
Although the chemical weapons investigation mission will look at the specific incident brought to his attention by the Syrian government, the Secretary General added that “we must also remain mindful of other allegations that chemical weapons were used elsewhere in the country,” referring to a joint letter from France and the United Kingdom, in which they requested an investigation into three incidents of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Secretary General asked for more information before deciding whether to broaden the investigation to include these additional allegations.
Detailed issues such as the mission composition and operational conditions, including safety and security, will need to be worked out. The safety concern was heightened by a terrorist attack in a mosque in Damascus yesterday, causing over 40 deaths, including a senior Muslim cleric, and dozens of civilians injured. The UN Security Council was finally able to reach a consensus in condemning this act and stating that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.” The Security Council had failed to reach a consensus in response to car bombing terrorist attacks in Damascus last month that killed scores of people.
The Secretary General’s spokesperson, when asked about safety concerns, responded that “It’s a risky undertaking, no question.”
No question indeed. Last year, the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, commanded by Norwegian Major General Robert Mood, had to suspend its activities because of what Major General Mood described as “escalating violence.” The violence has worsened since then, imperiling the ability of any UN chemical weapons investigation team to move around the country freely without fearing for their lives.
Moreover, the Assad regime will decide where the team can go within the parts of Syria that are still under its control. The areas under rebel control are a no-man’s land, where even the delivery of humanitarian aid is virtually impossible.
While well-intentioned, this latest gambit at an “independent” investigation with “unfettered access” is likely to fail.