Home News Analysis OPCW- Can identify culprits of chemical weapons abuse; Implications for Syrian conflict

OPCW- Can identify culprits of chemical weapons abuse; Implications for Syrian conflict


News Analysis |

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body with a mandate to investigate the use of prohibited chemicals as a weapon, has been given new powers in the special session. On Wednesday, member states accepted the resolution put forward by Great Britain to assign powers to OPCW through which it can put blame on the culprits as well.

Laws exist on the international level against the usage of chemical weapons, but in order to uphold them, it is necessary to have a body whose verdict is incumbently accepted by all the member states.

The resolution was approved by an 82-24 margin. The motion was supported by the United States and European Union but opposed by Russia, Iran, Syria and their allies.

Initially, the only authority OPCW had was to investigate the reality of the usage of chemical weapons – but not who used them. It was not sufficient as an environment for blame game and propaganda nourished due to this shortcoming as far as the authority of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was concerned. Britain moved the resolution after a Russian double agent and her daughter was targeted in an assassination attempt via a vile agent.

Read more: US urges UN to investigate chemical weapons in Syria

The nerve agent was found to be of Russian origin, initially developed during the Cold War by the Soviet Union. The development was followed by the expulsion of Russian diplomats by United States, United Kingdom, and allies and in retaliation, Russia responded by asking scores of western diplomats to leave for their countries.

Since both the parties were playing a blame game, there was no forum in sight which could offer a diplomatic solution to the problem. To delegate the requisite authority, Britain decided to empower OPCW which was accepted by a two-third majority of the member states. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the vote would empower the OPCW “not just to identify the use of chemical weapons but also the to point the finger at the organization, the state that they think is responsible.” “That’s crucial if we are going to deter the use of these vile weapons.”

Russia said that the vote called the future of the organization itself into question. “The OPCW is a Titanic which is leaking and has started to sink,” Industry Minister Georgy Kalamanov told reporters. “A lot of the countries that voted against the measure are starting to think about how the organization will exist and function in the future,” he told reporters. Thought the use of chemical weapons is banned according to the International Law, but in recent past several incidents have been reported where states themselves and at times some non-state actors have been found using them as a mean to spread terror.

On Wednesday, member states accepted the resolution put forward by Great Britain to assign powers to OPCW through which it can put blame on the culprits as well.

Especially in Syria, over the past two years, the government troops have used sarin gas and chlorine barrel bombs over the population. On the other hand, ISIS restored to Sulphur Mustard gas. All of the mentioned chemical agents are known to inflict serious suffering upon human contact.

From 2015 to 2017 a joint United Nations-OPCW team had been appointed to assign blame for chemical attacks in Syria. But at a deadlocked UN Security Council, the joint team was disbanded last year after Moscow used its veto to block several resolutions seeking to renew its mandate.

Read more: Russia-U.S. deadlock over Syrian chemical weapons inquiry continues

Empowering bodies like OPCW is an important step forward toward arms control. Until now, chemical weapons inspectors working under the auspices of the OPCW were in a curious position. They could send teams to an alleged chemical weapons attack. They could take samples and draw their conclusions.

They could determine whether indeed a chemical weapons incident had occurred. But whatever evidence they turned up, they could not point the finger at a particular country or non-state actor as the perpetrator. It did little to no good on a broader scale to bring the perpetrators to justice. Laws exist on the international level against the usage of chemical weapons, but in order to uphold them, it is necessary to have a body whose verdict is incumbently accepted by all the member states.

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