By Paul Walker, Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability programme
The CWC Coalition, coordinated by Green Cross ESS Director Paul Walker, once again put civil society groups front and centre in The Hague as the 21st annual Conference of States Parties (CSP) to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) unfolded the week of November 28th in The Hague, The Netherlands. The Coalition registered the largest-ever number of non-governmental representatives – 165 – for the CSP, representing 57 NGOs across the globe.
Walker moderated two open-forum discussions, on 29 November and 1 December, joined by speakers including: Ambassador Gillane Allam, Egyptian Council on Foreign Relations; Dr. Abdelmajid Azzouzi, Rif Memory Association, Morocco; Dr. Maria Espona, ArgIQ, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Ms. Irene Kornelly, Colorado Advisory Commission, Pueblo, Colorado, USA; Mr. Rana M. Athar Javed, Pakistan House, Denmark; Dr. Mohamad Reza Sedighi Moghadam, Chemical Warfare Victims Affairs Center, Iran; Ms. Elaheh Pooyandeh, Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support (SCWVS), Iran; Dr. Maria Sultan, South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, Pakistan; Dr. Sadik Toprak, Bulent Ecevit University, Turkey; and Mr. Craig Williams, Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Blue Grass, Kentucky, USA.
The CWCC also hosted a reception on 30 November in the Delegates’ Lounge of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the implementing agency of the CWC. OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü, German Ambassador Christoph Israng, and Norwegian Ambassador Martin Sorby all welcomed the many CWC Coalition guests, all national delegations, and representatives of the OPCW Technical Secretariat to the reception. The German and Norwegian delegations co-hosted the annual reception, and Ambassador Israng also served as chairman of the 21st CSP.
In addition to the many side events organized by the CWC Coalition, nineteen civil society representatives also spoke in plenary session on Wednesday, November 30th, the fifth time since 2013 that non-governmental participants were allowed to do so. The CWC Coalition speakers raised many issues in their plenary speeches, including the reported ongoing use of toxic chemicals in Syria and the recent OPCW/UN reports of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) that presented evidence of at least four chemical weapons attacks with chlorine and sulfur mustard agent in 2015. Concern was also raised about the development of incapacitating chemical agents (ICAs) as potential violations of the CWC; about the zero-growth budget of the OPCW, the lack of payment of annual assessments to the OPCW by many countries and its debilitating financial impact on the multilateral organization; and about the ongoing plight of victims of chemical weapon attacks in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.
Foremost among the many discussions and presentations at the CSP, including 73 national plenary statements by the 134 States Parties present, was the subject of Syria and the use of toxic chemicals there. Australian Ambassador Dr. Brett Mason, for example, stated: “The Declaration Assessment Team’s report shows us that there continues to be serious gaps and inconsistencies in Syria’s declaration under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
He went on to emphasize the following:
“…I am acutely aware that States Parties are often criticised for being ‘political’…. delegations are subject to criticism for “politicising” the Syria debate. But in our view, it is not political to demand that measures be taken against those who are proven to have used chemical weapons. It is not political to demand that the Syrian Government provide satisfactory explanations for the outstanding gaps and inconsistencies in its declarations. And it is not political to send a strong collective signal to all governments and non-state actors that the development and use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. But, colleagues, it is political to turn a blind eye to these violations; it is political when States Parties decide not to act and not to protect and not to enforce the Convention. That is political. That is politics.”
A joint statement regarding Syria was signed by 59 States Parties and expressed “grave concern” with the confirmed findings of the JIM reports, demanding that “all parties identified by the JIM as having been involved in the use of toxic chemicals as weapons immediately cease any further use.” It also noted “our strong conviction that every actor involved in these chemical weapons attack must be held accountable.” (“Statement on Behalf of Concerned States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention Concerning the Confirmed Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, “C-21/NAT.17, dated 30 November 2016.)
A second statement, signed by nine countries including Russia, is not yet available publicly. However, the Russian Deputy Minister of Industry, Mr. Kalamanov, stated in plenary that a recent decision by the OPCW Executive Council, which “the Russian Federation voted against,” on Syria “was based on absolutely unconvincing – at times even biased – accusations against Damascus brought by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.”
He also noted that: “[e]xperts at the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation routinely find in Syria’s province of Aleppo direct evidence of terrorists using chemical weapons that contain not only chlorine and white phosphorus, but also sulfur mustard against civilians and government forces.” (“Addressing Concerns over Politicisation of the Work and Scope of the OPCW and the Need to Preserve the Integrity of the Organisation,” C-21/NAT.16, dated 2 December 2016.)
Many other important issues were raised during last week’s CSP in The Hague. Readers are urged to review the OPCW’s final CSP report, the Director-General’s remarks, national and joint statements, and other decisions on-line at https://www.opcw.org/.