Team investigating Syrian chemical attacks decries ‘political pressure’
‘Some of the messages are very clear, saying if we don’t do our [work] according to them ... they will not accept the conclusions’
The head of the team charged with determining responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria appealed to governments on Thursday to stop exerting political pressure on investigators.
The investigators will report in mid-October on two incidents, including an April 4 attack that killed over 90 people. Edmund Mulet told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council behind closed doors that the team is receiving “direct and indirect messages all the time from many sides telling us how to do our work”.
The pressure is coming from “more than one and probably less than 20, but it’s still from quite a lot of different sectors and interested parties,” he said. “Some of the messages are very clear, saying if we don’t do our working according to them — these different visions — they will not accept the conclusions of our work.”
Mulet said his message to the Security Council was: “Please let us do our work. We have a very highly professional team. We’re going to do this in a very independent manner, objectively, impartially, and we will present our results in October.”
Fact-finding teams from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have been investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, but they aren’t mandated to determine responsibility for attacks. That has been left to a joint UN-OPCW investigative body headed by Mulet established by the Security Council.
The OPCW has confirmed that “sarin or a sarin-like” nerve gas was used in the deadly April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province. It sparked outrage around the world as photos and video of the aftermath, including quivering children dying on camera, were widely broadcast.
The United States blamed the Syrian military for the attack and launched a punitive strike days later on the air base where it said the attack was launched. Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied using chemical weapons.
The OPCW also found that two Syrian women involved in an attack in Um Hosh in Aleppo on September 16, 2016, were exposed to “sulphur mustard.”
Mulet said his team will base any determination of responsibility for the two attacks “on facts and on science” — not on claims that the government or opposition was responsible.
He said the team intends to visit the air base and would also like to go to Khan Sheikhoun, but that depends on security issues.
Before going there or to Um Hosh, Mulet said, “I would need some feedback from the Syrian government,” including flight logs from the air base and the names of military commanders and government officials the team would be interviewing.
“We are working already with the Syrian government on this and hopefully we will be given the necessary tools and instruments to do our work,” he said.
Mulet said the OPCW has also informed the investigators that it is working on six or seven other cases “that might come our way before the end of October when we present our substantive report.”