On April 21st, 2021 in The Hague, the Conference of State Parties of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) adopted a historic decision entitled „Addressing the Possession and Use of Chemical Weapons by the Syrian Arab Republic“. For the first time since the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force 24 years ago, voting rights and other privileges of a signatory state were suspended in accordance with Article XII (2) CWC. In response to the possession and repeated use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Arab Republic against its own population, sanctions were adopted. Syria will have to complete the measures set out in an OPCW Executive Council’s decision of July 2020 before the suspension of rights can be lifted. Amongst other obligations, Syria will have to fully and accurately declare all its chemical warfare programmes and ensure that all chemical substances forbidden under the Convention can be destroyed.
Jointly with 45 other countries, Germany submitted the draft decision to the Conference of States Parties with the aim of sending a clear message that no use of chemical weapons, by anyone, will be tolerated and whoever does use chemical weapons will be held accountable. The intervention of Ambassador Gudrun Lingner during the Conference can be found at the end of this article.
After debating the draft decision, 87 out of 102 Delegates voted in favour of suspending Syria’s voting rights at the Conference of States Parties and Executive Council, as well as depriving Syria of its rights to be elected to the Executive Council or to hold any other office at the OPCW. The Decision specifically condemns the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Arab Republic during three attacks in March 2017, when the Syrian Arab Air Force dropped Sarine and Chlorine on the village of Lthamenah, including on a hospital, thus killing innocent civilians. On April 8th, 2020, the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team’s (IIT) first report had – after thorough investigations – confirmed the responsibility of the Syrian Arab Republic for the use of chemical weapons in these three instances. In addition, this April’s decision of the highest body of the OPCW also reminds of the ongoing consultations between the OPCW and Syria, as well as of the decisions by the Executive Council, aiming since 2013 at bringing Syria into compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.
With this decision, the international community shows its determination to upholding the ban on chemical weapons. Germany welcomes the commitment underlined by this decision, which will also be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General, the UN Security Council and to the UN General Assembly. The suspension of voting rights and other privileges of the Syrian Arab Republic sends a clear message: under no circumstances is it tolerable that a signatory state to the Convention ever develops or uses chemical weapons (Art. I). There can be no impunity for those who use chemical weapons and violate the international norm. The use of chemical weapons by any state presents an unacceptable security threat to all states.
Germany urges the Syrian government to cooperate with the OPCW, to declare and destroy its remaining stockpile of chemical weapons, to renounce its chemical weapons program, and to comply with its obligations under the CWC.
The text of the Decision „Addressing the Possession and Use of Chemical Weapons by the Syrian Arab Republic“ is available here.