What we’re asking democracies to do as Syria begins presidency of UN disarmament forum

GENEVA, May 29, 2018 – The non-governmental monitoring group UN Watch, leader of the global campaign to protest Syria’s presidency of the UN-backed Conference on Disarmament (CD), released the following appeal, background sheet and comment as the Assad regime begins its four-week tenure of the world’s top disarmament forum by chairing today’s plenary meeting, at 10 am in Geneva.


Comment by UN Watch

“Having the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad preside over global chemical and nuclear weapons disarmament is like putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.
“The Assad regime’s documented use of chemical weapons remains the most serious violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention in the treaty’s twenty-year history,” said Neuer.
“At a time when Syria has been gassing its own men, women, and children to death, to see Syria heading the world body that is supposed to protect these victims simply shocks the conscience of humanity.”
“Syria holding the president’s gavel is liable to seriously undermine the UN’s credibility, and will send absolutely the worst message.”
What We Ask Democracies To Do 
On April 9, 2018, UN Watch revealed that Syria was to head the CD, sparking a global outcry.
UN Watch launched an appeal and petition, signed by thousands, calling on democracies to protest.
Today we reiterate our call on all democracies to send an important message by showing their protest in one or more of the following ways:
• Democracies should not send ambassadors to today’s plenary; if they must, they should send lower-level delegates or note-takers;
• Democracies should, in regard to Syrian ambassador Hussam Eddin Aala — whose government gasses its own people — dispense with the customary pleasantries of congratulating the new chair;
• Democracies that do send delegates to today’s meeting, or to meetings over the next month, should move swiftly to adjourn CD meetings, so that no business is discussed during Syria’s presidency. Because everyone recognizes that the CD has been paralyzed for more than two decades, no damage will be done to any disarmament work, but a vital message will have been sent.
• Democracies like France, Italy, Canada and Japan should denounce Syria’s lack of credentials to serve as head of the world’s top disarmament forum, as the US, the UK and Germany have done.
What is essential is that democracies make clear that it cannot be business as usual when dealing with the Assad regime as president of global disarmament.
Does the Conference on Disarmament matter?
The Conference on Disarmament (CD) is billed by the UN as “the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community.” Comprised of 65 nations, the CD negotiated the 1996 global nuclear test ban, and the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. It has been largely paralyzed over the past 20 years. But for many around the world, the symbolism of who is president does matter.
In response to criticism over Syria’s presidency, some close to the UN have said “the CD is not a a UN body.” Does the UN fund, manage, service, oversee or host the Conference on Disarmament?
Yes, the UN does all of those and more:
• The UN funds the Conference on Disarmament out of its regular budget.
• The UN Secretary-General appoints the Secretary-General of the CD, which is Mr. Michael Møller, the Director General of the UN in Geneva.
• The CD reports to the UN General Assembly.
• The CD’s decisions are recorded as UN documents.
• The CD meets on UN premises in Geneva.
• The CD is serviced by UN personnel.
• The CD’s website is on the UN Geneva’s website: www.unog.ch/cd.
• The emails for the CD are UN email addresses: cd@unog.ch and cd@un.org.
• The CD’s Twitter handle is: @UNODAGENEVA.
So while it is true that officially the CD is not a UN body, in every practical sense it is; saying otherwise is a distiction without a difference.
Has the UN chief spoken out on Syria’s presidency?
Only slightly. UN chief Antonio Guterres, speaking on disarmament last week in Geneva, expressed the hope that Syria’s presidency won’t have a “negative impact” on the CD.
Did any country try to stop Syria’s presidency?
Yes, America’s bid to block the Assad regime came in a meeting last week of the disarmament forum, after Syria vigorously defended its presidency and spoke of “achieving the objectives of the Convention on Chemical Weapons.”
Ambassador Hussam Alaa slammed the UK, France, and the US for bombing Syria over chemical weapons attacks, and said that “it is not the Syrian presidency that could harm this conference, but those who take the floor to justify aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.”
U.S. representative Robert Wood called on Russia to ask Syria to “stand down” from the presidency.
He added in a tweet: “Monday, May 28, will be one of the darkest days in the history of the Conference on Disarmament with Syria beginning its four-week presidency. The Damascus regime has neither the credibility nor moral authority to preside over the CD. The international community must not be silent.”
What powers will the Syrian ambassador have as president of the CD?
Under UN rules, the Syrian ambassador to the forum, Hussam Edin Aala, will help organize the work of the conference and assist in setting the agenda. Mr. Aala will exercise all functions of a presiding officer and represent the body in its relations with states, the General Assembly and other organs of the United Nations, and with other international organizations.
In the past, has any country absented itself in response to a rogue presidency?
Yes, the U.S. and Canada pulled out while Iran was chair in 2013, and should do so again this month.
Is it true that UN Chief Guterres is unable to respond on this matter?
The UN secretary-general said the post is merely the result of an automatic rotation, and that the matter can only be addressed by member states.
Yet actions taken by other high UN officials prove that he can speak out. When Syria was elected to a UNESCO human rights committee in 2013, the head of that UN body went on record to say that the election was wrong. “Given the developments in Syria, the director-general does not see how this country can contribute to the work of the committees.”
Past precedent shows that UN officials can act as the world’s moral voice when a UN committee makes obscene decisions which only cast a shadow on the reputation of the UN as a whole.
UN Watch predicted that Syrian propaganda would exploit this as a propaganda victory. Have they?
Yes, the official propaganda channels of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have hailed the position as a victory. Therefore, it is vital that democracies counter that message with vigorous protest.
What’s wrong with Syria heading a body dealing with nuclear or chemical weapons disarmament? 
A country that was reported to the UN Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency for its covert construction of a nuclear reactor and found in breach of the Nonproliferation Treaty, should be barred from any formal positions in UN bodies dealing with the such vital matters as biological, chemical and nuclear weapons disarmament.
Syria’s recent and continuous use of deadly chemical weapons and its illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons, in breach of its disarmament obligations, run counter to the objectives and fundamental principles of the Conference on Disarmament itself. Syria’s chairmanship will only undermine the integrity of both the disarmament framework and of the United Nations, and no country should support that.
Which treaties has the Conference of Disarmament produced?
The conference and its predecessors have negotiated major multilateral arms limitation and disarmament agreements, including:
• Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
• Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction
• Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction
• Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques
• Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

UN Watch