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.
Since acceding the the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) last month, Syria has submitted detailed declarations about its chemical weapon (CW) holdings and activities. While confidential, details of the composition of the CW arsenal have emerged from documents published by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). In particular, the publication of a request for expression of interest (EOI) by the commercial industry to dispose of certain toxic materials or their effluents has shed some light on Syria’s declarations.
On 28 October, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presented the first report on the destruction of chemical weapons (CW) in Syria to the UN Security Council (UNSC). The document also included the report by Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The monthly submissions are required under paragraph 12 of UNSC Resolution 2118. Both officials recorded significant progress since the adoption of the key decisions by the OPCW Executive Council and the UNSC on 27 September. They noted Syria’s cooperation, and listed the challenges ahead and the requirements to be able to meet the final destruction deadline of mid-2014.
(26 September 2013)
The Security Council,
PP1. Recalling the Statements of its President of 3 August 2011, 21 March 2012, 5 April 2012, and its resolutions 1540 (2004), 2042 (2012) and 2043 (2012),
PP2. Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic,
PP3. Reaffirming that the proliferation of chemical weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security,
PP4. Recalling that the Syrian Arab Republic on 22 November 1968 acceded to the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, signed at Geneva on 17 June 1925,
Joint Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Security and Defence (SEDE) Committee of the European Parliament
Brussels, 26 September 2013
Statement (PDF) by Dr Jean Pascal Zanders
1. Mister Chairman, Members of the Foreign Affairs and Security and Defence Committees, I am honoured to address you today on the question of chemical weapons (CW) and disarmament in Syria. I understand that several of my recent writings on the subject have been made available to you as background information, and I will therefore limit myself to highlighting some key issues.
2. On 21 August, the world woke up to the news of major chemical warfare incidents in the Ghouta district of Damascus. Many hundreds of people died from the effects of poisonous gases. Many more will suffer from the long-term consequences of low-level exposure to a neurotoxicant, now known to have been sarin. Since the end of 2012 there have been several allegations of CW use, but none of them have been independently confirmed. Although deaths and other casualties were reported, the total image never added up to one of chemical warfare. The nature of the attack on the Ghouta district differed in many fundamental ways from the earlier allegations. The parallel mounting of several strikes into different areas, the number of victims, and the density of local reporting (i.e., volume of video footage, pictures, and corroborating witness accounts) all immediately pointed to the seriousness of the event.
This is a very quick reaction to the agreement between Russia and the United States to address Syria’s chemical weapons. My interpretations may change as more background information becomes available. I am sure that over the next few days there will be many background briefings to add texture to the individual paragraphs in the agreement. I welcome comments challenging or supplementing my views, and will revise this posting accordingly.
Generally speaking, the bilateral agreement takes the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the fact that Syria has just submitted its instrument of accession to the UN Secretary General as the point of departure. The Executive Council (EC) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will play its full role in the determination of the of the specific destruction timeframes, even though Russia and the USA are likely to press their case very strongly. The EC comprises 41 states parties. They are elected within and proposed by their respective regional caucuses. All voting in the OPCW decision-making bodies is on the basis of one state party/one vote. Under normal circumstances, states parties strive for consensus in their decision-making, but given the urgency with which Russia and the USA wish to have the Syrian question addressed, one should not be surprised to see majority voting results emerge from the EC meetings. Such majority voting should also not be viewed as undermining the legitimacy of the process, because it is foreseen in the treaty text.
The idea of internationalising Syria’s stockpile is doable, but what would it take?
Some first thoughts to launch an international and constructive discussion
by Jean Pascal Zanders and Ralf Trapp
Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov launched an idea—in the meantime accepted by Syria—based on an offhand remark by US Secretary of State that Syria might avoid punitive military strikes if it were to ‘turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week’. He said:
With the horrific events of the past two days in several Damascus suburbs dominating the airwaves and press reports, the ability to establish rough time lines of events and more detailed circumscriptions of the areas affected allows more and more to conclude that several more or less simultaneous chemical weapon (CW) attacks took place in the very early morning hours of 21 August. While the number of casualties — affected survivors and fatalities — is impossible to establish right now, it is clear that scores, if not hundreds of people fell victim to some asphyxiant. Several chemical warfare agents are liquids. The evaporation of droplets after their release creates a toxic cloud that is typically heavier than air. It would seep through any cavity into lower-lying spaces. Many reports indicate that people were sleeping in basements to shelter from nightly shelling. This may account for the large number women and children casualties.