Home News Analysis Syria to head UN’s body for disarmament, an ironical twist

Syria to head UN’s body for disarmament, an ironical twist

Members of the UN have expressed dismay over Syria becoming president of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, since the Assad regime has been accused of using chemical weapons.

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News Analysis |

In a paradox, Syria has been appointed as the head of the United Nations-backed disarmament body as the result of the rotation policy which was enacted to disallow dominance of global superpowers. As par rules, all the United Nations countries get the chance to preside over the particular body, in an alphabetical order. Therefore, after Switzerland, it was eventually Syria’s turn to lead. The move was met with outrage from Western governments, but there was little they could do to prevent Syria from taking over the world’s only permanent multilateral body for negotiating arms control agreements for four weeks.

An appointment described as “one of the darkest days in the history” of the panel.

Matthew Rowland, the British ambassador to the organization, said it “deplores the fact that Syria will assume the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament, given the regime’s consistent and flagrant disregard of international nonproliferation and disarmament norms and agreements.” United States Ambassador to the conference which then led to the selection of Syria as the head, Robert Wood, condemned the move as “one of the darkest days” in the history of the forum. US ambassador to the forum, Robert Wood, said it marked “one of the darkest days in the history of the Conference on Disarmament”

The conference was created in 1979, and one of the most significant treaties it negotiated was the 1993 Chemical weapons convention, which bans the production, stockpiling or use of chemical weapons. However, in 2013, when Ghouta Chemical attack more than 1400 people were killed as the result of Sarin gas attack, Syria submitted to the Chemical weapons convention.

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

The deal was negotiated by United States of America and Russia after which the Syrian government submitted the stockpile of chemical weapons. But the gas attack at the noncombatant civilians continued even after that. Responsibility for which was put by Syrian government at the rebels and ISIS and vice versa. According to United Nation investigators, more than 30 chemical attacks have been carried out by Syrian government including the April 2017 attack which killed approximately 83 people.

A key issue hindering the OPCW’s work was that its current mandate was to only determine the reality of any chemical attack happening, and not who carried them out.

The news comes at a day when the head of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog has questioned whether Syrian President declared his entire arsenal. Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), highlighted that attacks involving chlorine barrel bombs and deadly nerve agent sarin have continued despite the landmark agreement that won the group a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

Read more: Chemical inspectors launch probe in Syria while Putin warns of impending “Chaos”

Syrian “authorities have to explain in a plausible, technically plausible manner why the samples collected by our experts did prove the existence of certain chemicals which were never declared,” Uzumcu said in an interview. “So they should explain why those chemicals were present in such places.”

‘The Syrian regime has caused immeasurable suffering – through massive bombardment, oppression, starvation and repeated use of chemical weapons’

According to Uzumcu, the use of sarin in February 2017 raised concerns that Syria might have kept certain banned substances despite Assad’s government saying it surrendered its stockpile of chemical agents in 2013. Syria could have also redeveloped or reacquired them. “Many Western countries are worried that the Syrian government continues to possess some of the precursors of sarin,” he said. A key issue hindering the OPCW’s work was that its current mandate was to only determine the reality of any chemical attack happening, and not who carried them out.

PR Disaster? 

Though substantially Syria might not be able to make anything out of the position it is finding itself in right now but the fact that such a controversial nation state vis-à-vis arm controls is heading the relevant body is a Public Relations disaster for UN. UN officials have been wearily pointing out that the rotating presidency system was devised by member states, primarily to prevent more powerful countries constantly jockeying for position. Nevertheless, it was the Conference on Disarmament which painstakingly negotiated the convention banning chemical weapons, which was signed by Syria. The prospect of Syria sitting in the president’s chair, when there is widespread evidence that it has used nerve gas against its own people, is shocking to many people.


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