Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 39

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held its 77th Session of the Executive Council this past week, October 7-10, 2014, in The Hague. A unique statement from 52 States Parties (including 17 Council members), delivered by Ambassador Francesco Azzarello from Italy, on October 10 expressed appreciation to the OPCW, the United Nations, and the many countries who had taken “…significant steps towards the complete dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons program. All this has been achieved safely and without harming the environment and represents a considerable success for the international community and a remarkable example of international cooperation“.

The multilateral statement, however, also warned that the ongoing reports of the use of chlorine gas as a weapon in the Syrian civil war, most recently underlined in the second Fact-Finding Mission report of the OPCW, dated September 10, 2014, “includes the fact that witnesses invariably connected the attacks to the use of helicopters. Only the Syrian military possesses the capability to use helicopters in such attacks.”

The official statement also said: “The use of chlorine or any other toxic chemical as a weapon is a clear breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention and of United Nations Security Council resolution 2118 (2013). The States Parties subscribing to this statement firmly believe that all perpetrators of atrocious abuses and war crimes in the Syrian Arab Republic, including the use of chemical weapons, must be held accountable. We call upon the Executive Council of the OPCW to consider necessary consequences under the provisions of the Convention.”

The Qatari Permanent Representative to the OPCW Khalid Fahad al-Khater, one of many countries to address the Council, stated that Qatar “condemned the systemic use of chemical weapons in Syrian villages controlled by the opposition” and “urged the council to take all measures to address this grave issue”. Al-Khater also stated that the credibility of the prohibition of chemical weapons cannot be achieved unless the “agreement secures non-sue of chemical weapons in any part of the world and under any circumstances“. Qatar also hosted a reception for the Council, the first ever so organized by a State Party during a Executive Council session.

The Council also noted in its final report that Russia, the United States, and Libya all briefed the members on their current schedule for chemical weapons stockpile destruction. The Council added in the final report that Russia had previously stated that “with regard to the Kizner facility [Russia’s 7th and last CW destruction facility which began operating in December, 2013], the destruction will continue after 2015″. The Council then requested Russia to provide an updated schedule due to the fact that Russia’s current schedule ends in December, 2015. The US continues to project that it will complete destruction of its declared CW stockpile in 2023, and Libya has a reported 850 metric tons of precursor chemicals which are scheduled for destruction by December 2016.

A Syrian activist group, the “Local Coordination Committees of Syria”, released a statement on Thursday, October 16. According to the local activist spokesman Syrian government forces used chlorine gas in Damascus as a revenge attack. Reportedly the Syrian Free Army had killed 80 Syrian government soldiers and the army used the gas in retaliation. This allegedly took place in Syrian Free Army held Joban and Arbin areas of Damascus. The area holds strategic importance given it is essentially an opening to the areas of Haresta, Joban and East Ghouta. Ghouta was the region east of Damascus where some 1,400 civilians, including several hundred children, were killed with sarin nerve agent on August 21, 2013, a month prior to Syria acceding to the Chemical Weapons Convention.