Friday, 15 January 2021

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Global Chemical Weapons Convention fails to protect Syrian civilian population

UN security council staffan de mistura UN Photo Mark Garten RS

10.4.2018 – The prohibition on the use of chemical weapons is not only absolute, it has also been fully supported by virtually every country everywhere: a total of 192 States have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in April 1997, making it one of the most universally subscribed to Conventions in existence.

But reports suggest yet another deadly chemical attack may have been carried out in Syria on Saturday in the town of Douma.

“I am outraged by the continued reports of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic,”, says United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.”I reiterate my strong condemnation of the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population.

“In that regard, I reaffirm my full support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and its Fact-Finding Mission, in undertaking the required investigation into these allegations”, said Guterres. “The Fact-Finding Mission should be granted full access, without any restrictions or impediments, to perform its activities.”

The attack in Douma highlights “the impotence of the international response to earlier attacks alleged to have been carried out in Syria”, stated UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “After decades when we thought we had successfully outlawed the use of chemical and biological weapons, the world is sitting idly by while their use is becoming normalized in Syria”.

“Recent developments carry more than ever before the dangers that the Secretary-General has warned about,” said Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, during yesterday’s emergency meeting of the Security Council; “Dangers of different Middle East fault lines completely crossing each other, of conflicting interests, of both global and regional powers, and forms of escalation that can have absolutely devastating consequences that are difficult for us to even imagine.”

States that ratified the Convention, including Syria, which was one of the last States to do so on 14 September 2013, solemnly undertook to “never under any circumstances:  develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;  To use chemical weapons;  To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;  To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.”

Nevertheless, chemical weapons are believed to have been employed by diverse parties to the conflict in Syria on at least 35 separate occasions* since the beginning of 2013.

“The Council cannot allow a situation of uncontrollable escalation to develop in Syria, on any front,” de Mistura underscored.

Also briefing the Security Council today, Thomas Markram, the Deputy High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – which monitors implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and works to rid the world of such weapons – is gathering information on the alleged incidents over the weekend and will report its  findings on this alleged attack.

*In September 2017, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic summarized 33 separate incidents where it had found use of chemical weapons. Since then there have been several additional suspected chemical attacks. For more details see:


UNRIC backgrounder on Syria

UNRIC backgrounder on Protection of civilians in armed conflict:

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