On 20–21 March the University of Rome III hosted a roundtable discussion to reflect on the current status of the prohibition on chemical weapons (CW) and the future challenges to that ban. Although convened by the Law Department, the speakers represented an eclectic group of experts with backgrounds in international law, political sciences, chemistry and biology, as well as practitioners. Notwithstanding, the meeting yielded considerable coherence in arguments, with questions, challenges and supplementary insights contributing further to an already rich multi-disciplinary texture.
This morning, I came across an item on the BBC website entitled: Princess Anne: Gassing badgers is most humane way to cull.
According to the piece, Princess Royal’s comments came after the British government said it would not expand badger culling from two pilot culls aimed at reducing TB in cattle.
Interest groups of course welcomed her remarks. As a representative of the National Farmers’ Union said in a BBC radio interview ‘The Princess Royal is noted for outspoken views and her forthright honesty. I think it’s an option that needs looking at. And provided we can tick all the boxes as far as humaneness goes then it would certainly be an option to consider.’
The publication of the 4th monthly report by the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month drew worldwide attention to Syria missing important interim deadlines for the removal of chemicals from its territory. US Ambassador Bob Mikulak’s head-on criticism of Syria’s procrastination at the latest OPCW Executive Council meeting reflected frustration shared by many states. The responsibilities Syria assumed under the US-Russian Framework agreement of 14 September, as a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and under UN Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) include the removal of the Priority 1 chemicals by 31 December and the shipment abroad of all other declared chemicals with the exception of those it must destroy by itself (essentially isopropanol and the mustard agent residue in the original containers) by 5 February. The tripartite status-of-mission document, which stipulates the operational roles for Syria, the OPCW and the UN, was finally signed on 6 February. According to Resolution 2118, this agreement should have been concluded by 1 November. Being critical to organising the whole destruction process within the tight deadlines, the UN and the OPCW had already handed the Syrian government a proposal on 16 October.
Today Syria becomes the 190th party to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
In the 16 years since entry into force on 29 April 1997, CWC universality now equals that of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which entered into force on 5 March 1970).
The convention extends the 1925 Geneva Protocol’s ban on chemical (and biological) warfare by also comprehensively prohibiting the development, acquisition, transfer and possession of chemical weapons (CW). Indeed, the norm against CW has become so overpowering that a relatively small chemical attack by historical standards in Ghouta (Damascus) on 21 August brought allies and foes of the Bashar al-Assad regime together forcing the Syrian government to formally renounce CW as an instrument of war or deterrence. All of this in a matter of less than seven weeks!
Hearing before the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Strasbourg, 30 September 2013
The BBC carries very graphic footage of the aftermath of an incendiary bomb dropped by a fighter jet on to a school playground in the north of Syria. Scores of children have napalm-like burns over their bodies.
An incendiary weapon is not a chemical weapon as defined by the Chemical Weapons Convention, because it harms humans through heat rather than the direct effects of poisoning. They include weapons such as napalm or white phosphorus.
Incendiary weapons are banned by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention), Protocol III. Article I defines an incendiary weapon as follows: