Anyone who wants to know about German and European foreign policy on Syria should follow the debates in the UN Security Council. The Security Council is the highest political decision-making body of the United Nations, in which five states – Russia, China, France, The United Kingdom, the United States – are permanently represented and have a right of veto. A further ten states each have a seat as non-permanent members for two years. Germany has been a non-permanent member of the Security Council until the end of 2020.
Most Member States are trying to take their task seriously, in line with the importance of the Security Council. They behave respectfully and appeal to the solidarity and unity of the Security Council in order to find solutions to the numerous international wars and crises.
However, the so-called P 3 (Permanent 3) France, Great Britain and the USA are increasingly providing an unworthy spectacle. If the debate does not go as it is imagined in Western capitals, the UN ambassadors will appear with distributed roles to influence or openly insult those who hold other positions. Then it is not a question of content, but of how to humiliate, demonstrate, obstruct and prevent the other. For years, and especially since the beginning of the war in Syria, the P3’s favorite target has been Russia.
“In order to increase the pressure on Russia if it does not extradite the regime as we hope, we should continue what we are already doing,” reads a well-known transcript of the “Little Syria Group” that met in Washington on September 11, 2018, at the invitation of David Satterfield, Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs at the US State Department. “Highlighting the terrible humanitarian situation and Russia’s complicity in the bombing campaign against civilian targets,” the British protocol leader noted.
The small Group of Syria at the time included the so-called P 3 USA, Great Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Shortly thereafter, the group expanded to include Germany and Egypt. This “knighthood” is likely to explain the position of the German UN ambassador and his representatives on the subject of Syria in the UN Security Council. The “German man” at the UN is Christoph Heusgen and was Angela Merkel’s foreign policy adviser and international crisis manager in the chancellery for twelve years. In 2017, he became ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Heusgen and his representatives in the UN Security Council do not miss an opportunity to denounce “Russia’s complicity” in Syria.
The most recent example was the 8764. Meeting of the UN Security Council in New York last Monday (5.10.2020).
A lesson in diplomacy
On the agenda was the topic “Progress in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles”, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution 2018. The unrepresentative for disarmament, Mrs Izumi Nakamitsu, was invited as rapporteur to present her report. The Russian Federation, which chairs the UN Security Council in October, also invited José Bustani, The First Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
There was no agreement with that, British UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said in a statement. “Together with Belgium, Estonia, Germany and the USA, we object to this speaker,” Allen said. Those who should speak on the subject of the meeting “Progress in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles” must “have a meaning and be familiar with the subject”. Both are not the case with Bustani, although he is an outstanding diplomat. However, he had left the OPCW many years before the issue of Syrian chemical weapons was discussed in the Security Council and was not able to contribute “significant, informed information” on the subject. The proposal should therefore be put to the vote.
It was followed by a 20-minute exchange of blows over whether José Bustani should speak or not. Britain, France and Germany denied the position in which the Russian ambassador, Nebenzia, had issued the invitation. Bustani had been invited by the Chairman of the Security Council, which is also his right under Rule 39 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure. The British-French-German Rejection Front, on the other hand, attacked the chairman as a representative of the Russian Federation. In his retending, Nebenzia repeatedly changed from his role as chairman of the UN Security Council to the role of Russian UN ambassador, which was provoked by the ambassadors of Great Britain, France and Germany.
Chinese U.N. Ambassador Geng Shuang defended the president’s decision as legitimate, saying he did not understand the British proposal. “As a former director of the OPCW, Mr. Bustani has a wealth of experience, unique insight and knowledge of the workings and processes of the OPCW.” In addition, Mr Bustani has knowledge of chemical weapons and is therefore very suitable as a speaker on the subject. The Security Council has often invited speakers, some of whom have been far less professional and experienced, such as José Bustani. Geng Shuang said the UK’s behaviour was regrettable. He proposed that the British proposal be put to the vote.
Britain, for its part, stressed that the chairman had invited the speaker (Bustani) and must now put it to the vote. Either he withdraws his proposal or he needs nine votes to speak out in favour of the speaker.
The Russian president, UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia, suggested that the phrase “Who is against José Bustani today” should be used. The British ambassador (name) disagreed. The Russian Federation had invited the speaker and should let it vote on who supported it.
Chinese Ambassador Geng Shuang criticized Britain and the other representatives for challenging the chairman. In his capacity as President of the Security Council, he has the right to invite a speaker. If there is to be a vote, it is the UK’s call.
French UN diplomat Nicolas De Riviere referred to the “standard format” for dealing with the issue. After that, the Security Council deals with Syrian chemical weapons every month and everyone is satisfied with them. Russia had organised Arria meetings outside the Security Council, where it had selected its guests. Mr Bustani could also speak there. In the Security Council, Russia must vote on whether to listen to Bustani.
German U.N. Ambassador Heusgen reminded the Russian president of an event in 2018. At the time, Russia had prevented a Security Council meeting on “Human Rights in Syria” at which the High Commissioner for Human Rights was to speak. That was “a scandal,” Heusgen said. Now turn the skewer.
China’s U.N. ambassador, meanwhile, accused Britain and the others of “double standards.” “Why can other speakers be invited, but not Mr Bustani?” Britain and “the other colleagues” apparently “didn’t want to hear any other views.” ‘They say they’re objective, but that’s not the case.’
The chairman, Ambassador Nebenzia, voted: for the invitation of Mr Bustani, against and abstentions. Three representatives chose Bustani (Russia, China, South Africa), six opposed (USA, Great Britain, France Germany, Belgium, Estonia) and six abstained (Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Indonesia, Niger, Tunisia, St Vincent and the Grenadines). José Bustani was unloaded, a scandal.
Why shouldn’t José Bustani speak at the UN Security Council?
Probably unintentionally, the German UN ambassador and his opposition to the invitation of the chairman had provided a clear indication of the background of the P 3 + Germany + Belgium + Estonia rejection front.
The March 2018 meeting to which Heusgen referred – presumably after consultation with The United Kingdom, France, and the United States – had been requested by France and seven other states at the time. Russia had called for a vote on the agenda, not on the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the vote, France did not receive the required 9 votes for its proposal, but only 8 votes (France, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden UK, USA). Four Countries voted against the meeting (Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation) and three countries abstained (Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia).
In the context of the recently met “Little Syria Group,” France wanted to raise the issue of “human rights” in the UN Security Council to “highlight the terrible humanitarian situation and Russia’s complicity in the bombing campaign for civilian targets,” as agreed by protocol. In March 2018, the area east of Damascus was affected. There, the armed groups (Jaish al Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, Al Rahman Legion, Tahrir al Sham, Free Syrian Army and Jaish al Umma) in the eastern outskirts of Damascus (Ghouta) came under heavy pressure and their withdrawal was negotiated. Civilians were evacuated from Douma and other suburbs. After agreeing to leave for Idlib, Al Bab and Jarabulus, north of Aleppo on the border with Turkey, an argument allegedly broke out within Jaish al Islam and Damascus was again shelled.
Since the author was there herself at the time, she remembers and also that the Syrian army fired back. The re-battles lasted only one day. The next day, on 7 April 2018, the controversial White Helmets organization said that the Syrian army had used poison gas in Douma.
Syria rejected this and called for the deployment of OPCW inspectors to investigate the allegations. The US, Uk and France immediately blamed the Syrian army and bombed Syria on April 14, 2018", “in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack on Douma.” Germany welcomed the attacks. The OPCW team of inspectors was in Beirut at the time, on their way to Damascus.
Inspectors from the team reported in 2019 that there was probably no chemical weapons attack by the Syrian army in Douma. Among other things, the cylinders with which the poison gas is said to have been transported were probably placed by hand where they were found. They called for internal hearing and a debate about their investigations and what was later read in the OPCW’s edited Douma final report. They were not heard, but denounced instead. After their findings became public, OPCW launched an investigation against them.
Bustani: Worried about the OPCW
José Bustani wanted to talk about this, about the OPCW investigation in Douma and the official final report.
The first general director of the OPCW, and in some ways its architect, was in office from 1997 to 2002. Shortly before the invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies in 2003, Bustani was removed from office “after a campaign initiated by the US in 2002”, he explains in his statement to UNSR. (German Translation By H. Neuber). “Ironically, because I had tried to enforce the chemical weapons convention.”
He was" very proud of the independence, impartiality and professionalism of their inspectors", Bustani said about the OPCW. “No state party should be considered superior to the other. The hallmark of the Organisation’s work has been the equal treatment of all member states, regardless of their size, political power or economic influence.”
Now, however, there are indications that this in particular has been “seriously affected”, “possibly under pressure from some member states.“The circumstances” in which the OPCW conducted the investigation into the alleged chemical weapons attack in Duma, Syria, on 7 April 2018” are troubling for him as a former director general. “This concern comes from the very core of the organization, from the scientists and engineers who were involved in the investigation in Duma.“He had been invited to a meeting with one of the inspectors involved in autumn 2019, where witness statements and evidence had been presented. What he had seen and heard had been so disturbing that he had already made a public statement at that time, Bustani said in his unrestrained speech to UNSR. Together with other personalities from all over the world, he advocated the hearing of the inspectors for the Douma investigation. The OPCW did not respond to the growing controversy surrounding the Douma-final report. “Behind an impenetrable wall of Silence and lack of transparency” have entrenched the organization, the dialogue was not possible.
But the OPCW’s work must be transparent, says Bustani. “Without transparency there is no trust and trust is what holds the OPCW together.“Personally, the Brazilian Diplomat then turned to his successor, Director General Fernando Arias:” the inspectors are among the most valuable assets of the organization. As scientists and engineers, their expertise and contributions are essential for good decision-making. Most importantly, however, their views are not influenced by politics or national interests. They rely only on science. The inspectors of the Duma investigation have a simple request: they want to be given the opportunity to meet with you in order to communicate your concerns personally in a way that is both transparent and responsible.”
That is the Minimum you could expect, Bustani said. “At great risk to yourself, you have dared to speak out against possible irregular behavior in your organization. And it is undoubtedly in your interest, in the interest of the organization and in the interest of the world, that you listen to them.“The inspectors did not claim to be right, they wanted a fair hearing.
“From director general to director general, I kindly ask you to give them this opportunity. If the OPCW has confidence in the reliability of its scientific work on the Duma and in the integrity of the investigation, then it has little to fear from the hearing of its inspectors. However, if the claims of censorship of evidence, selective use of data and exclusion of key investigators, among other claims, are not unfounded, then it is all the more urgent that the matter be dealt with openly and as a matter of priority.“The OPCW has the opportunity to correct itself,” Bustani concludes. “The world needs a credible controller of chemical weapons. We had one, and I am confident, Mr. Arias, that you will make sure that we have one again.”
So far the speech of José Bustani. But why did Britain, France, the USA and Germany not want to hear this? Because statements by the inspectors indicate that it was at least one of these states that directly exerted threatening pressure on the inspectors even by sending a Delegation to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague. “They didn’t introduce themselves, but threw a brochure on the table and said: This is the Douma report, that’s how it was, “recalled” Alex”, one of the inspectors at a meeting in October 2019 attended by the author.
Germany is the third largest donor to the OPCW and a member of the executive council until 2021. The behaviour and pressure towards the inspectors of the Douma team should not have escaped Germany. Nevertheless, it keeps – against better knowledge one could assume – the “Permanent 3” the Fidelity. Why?
Back to German diplomacy in the security Council. According to the report of the disarmament Commissioner Izumi Nakamitsu, the Chairman Ambassador Nebenzia – in his national capacity as the Russian UN ambassador-used the debate on the report to read the speech of José Bustani in full.
The British UN Ambassador Allen complained. The president had shown contempt for the members of the Security Council. He invited a speaker who did not receive a majority in the vote. Nevertheless, he (the president) ignored the decision of the Security Council. But it is " perhaps no surprise that Russia ignores the rules it wants others to follow.”
France and the US also criticized The Russian UN Ambassador Nebenzia in the usual, harsh manner, before commenting on the progress report of the disarmament envoy Izumi Nakamitsu. Then the German UN Ambassador Heusgen contacted Word and addressed the chairman of the Russian ambassador directly.
“In your introduction and the long quote, you said that those who questioned Mr. Bustani’s presence would bring “disgrace and disgrace to the Security Council,” the ambassador opened his attack, which is to be fully translated here:
“Let me ask, who brought shame and shame to the Security Council? Was it the 12 states that did not agree with you and tried to prevent a former OPCW official who was unable to provide relevant information? Or was it Russia and China? (….) Russia and China prevented (The High Commissioner for Human Rights, kl) Zeid Al Hussein from speaking at the Security Council, which brought shame and shame to the Security Council.
Who brought shame and shame to the Security Council? Were it the 13 countries at the table that voted in July for the opening of three cross-border openings in northern Syria in order to bring humanitarian aid to the country? Or was it China and Russia that vetoed it, putting 500,000 lives at risk, including many children, according to UNICEF?
Who brings shame and shame to the Security Council? Is it the members who adhere to the Chemical Weapons Convention or is it Russia that carried out a cyber attack on the OPCW in The Hague in 2018?
Who brings shame and shame to the Security Council? Are it the members of the international community who defend the Chemical Weapons Convention and prevent the use of chemical weapons? Or is it Russia that even uses chemical weapons against its own citizens – against Mr Navalny, against Mr Litvinenko, against Mr Skripal and his daughter?
- When will we ever hear from you, in your Russian capacity, a word of mourning for the victims of chemical weapons attacks on the Syrian people? More than 1,000 people died. When will we hear a word of mourning for the victims of the Assad regime, about those who witnesses described in the Koblenz trial – thousands and thousands of people were murdered in Assad’s prisons and buried in mass graves. When will we hear a word of sorrow from you about it? When will you finally support the Syrian regime being held accountable for these crimes and that the reconciliation that we urgently need can take place?
However, the German ambassador forgot why he was sitting on the Security Council that day, eager to pillory Russia and China and accuse all evil in Syria. Heusgen made no mention of the report by the UN disarmament envoy Izumi Nakamitsu.
Chinese Ambassador Geng Shuang pointed this out. He very much regrets that Mr Bustani has been prevented from speaking at the Security Council and that various countries, including Germany, have blocked him, according to the Chinese representative. This makes clear all the hypocrisy of these countries, who only wanted to hear what they themselves had to say. “The German representative has not even mentioned the issue of chemical weapons in Syria,” Geng Shuang added. The statement “consisted exclusively of attacks against other members of the Security Council.” The German representative had used the Security Council like a stage to express his moods and dissatisfaction. Such behaviour is not constructive. “While the British representative expressed his displeasure, he then expressed his position on the report on the state of the chemical weapons in Syria. But if in future the members of the Security Council come here, not to discuss but to attack other countries, how are we going to talk about solidarity and work in the Security Council?”