What is the O.P.C.W., and Can It Referee on Chemical Weapons in Syria?

Its job is to watch compliance with that treaty, and to work towards ridding the world of chemical weapons. It additionally has a task in verifying the elimination of these weapons.

The group describes itself as “an independent, autonomous, international organization with a working relationship with the United Nations.”

In 2013, Syria signed the conference and agreed to eradicate its chemical weapons stockpiles. On a joint mission with the United Nations, the group organized for the transport of all chemical weapons the Syrian authorities had declared for disposal abroad.

Over 96 p.c of state-declared stockpiles around the globe have been destroyed beneath the watch of the group. However, as appears to be the case in Syria, that doesn’t essentially imply that international locations now not have chemical weapons, as a result of there isn’t any strategy to assure that they declared the whole lot they’d.

How can inspectors work in a conflict zone?

The group was not created to work in battle zones and has needed to adapt to ship its inspectors to international locations at conflict. In 2014, allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria prompted the group to dispatch a fact-finding mission to the nation, the primary time it had despatched a crew to an space of energetic battle. (They first visited Syria in 2013.)


Residents of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, protested final April after a suspected chemical weapons assault on their city.

Omar Haj Kadour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Collecting samples whereas ensuring they can be utilized for proof takes time, and such missions can flip investigators into targets. While working in Syria in 2014, for instance, their convoy came under fire.

Last 12 months, whereas wanting into additional allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, investigators didn’t go to the town of Khan Sheikhoun due to safety fears. Instead, they relied on witness accounts and samples collected from the location. That opened their conclusions to criticism from Russia and Syria, which contended that Damascus had disposed of all its chemical weapons.

Can the O.P.C.W. level the finger?

No. The group’s job is to determine whether or not chemical weapons have been used, not who used them.

“It’s dealing with things it wasn’t really intended to deal with,” mentioned Richard Guthrie, a chemical weapons knowledgeable and editor of CBW Events, a web site that tries to doc makes use of of chemical and organic weapons.

When the Chemical Weapons Convention was being negotiated, Mr. Guthrie mentioned, “the priority was large-scale use of chemical weapons on the battlefield — that had occurred in the Iran-Iraq war.” But that’s completely different from figuring out the comparatively small-scale use of chemical weapons, just like the alleged case in Syria, or the assault on the spy and his daughter in Britain.

Until the top of final 12 months, the group had a mandate to go on its findings to a Joint Investigative Mechanism, established by the United Nations Security Council, which might attempt to determine the perpetrators of assaults. But last year Russia vetoed the extension of that mandate.

That leaves a disconnect: Even if the group finds that chemical weapons have been utilized in Douma, the query of who’s in charge may stay unresolved.

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