Wed, 19 Apr 2017 21:03 UTC
The OPCW Executive Council convened earlier in the day to discuss the ongoing fact-finding mission (FFM) taking place in the wake of an alleged chemical attack in Syria's Idlib earlier this month. The organization's full-fledged investigation into who is responsible for the attack can only take place once the fact-finding mission establishes that the attack indeed took place.
"The results of these analyses from four OPCW designated laboratories indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin like substance. While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible," Uzumcu was quoted as saying in an OPCW statement.
The FFM is continuing to gather evidence and staff are prepared to go to Khan Sheikhun once the security situation is acceptable, the statement said. "In the meantime, the Fact-Finding Mission is continuing with interviews, evidence management and sample acquisition. The Director-General reported that an FFM team is ready to deploy to Khan Sheikhun should the security situation permit," the statement said.
On Thursday, Uzumcu said the organization could complete its fact-checking of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria within the next three weeks and urged OPCW member states offer any available information to the investigation.
On April 4, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces blamed the Syrian government for an alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun. Damascus denied any involvement in the Idlib incident, while the Syrian army said it does not possess chemical weapons. Western powers rushed to condemn Damascus, while Russia insisted on a proper investigation and said the incident was likely the result of an airstrike on a militant weapons cache rather than a deliberate attack.
Last Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minsiter Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was using its relations with Damascus to encourage the Syrian government to fully cooperate with the OPCW which announced in January 2016 that it had destroyed Syria's chemical weapons arsenal in accordance with an agreement reached after the 2013 Ghouta attack.
Comment: The following is from the OPCW Fact Sheet 5 describing Routine Inspections of Chemical Weapons, short-notice Challenge Inspections and Investigations of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons.
Investigations of Alleged Use of Chemical WeaponsSee also:
Allegations of the use of chemical weapons have marked certain recent conflicts. During the late 1980s and early 1990s the United Nations established ad hoc teams to investigate such allegations in Iraq, Azerbaijan and Mozambique. The OPCW is the only international organisation with a legal requirement to maintain on standby a fully trained and equipped capability to investigate allegations of use of chemical weapons.
Under the CWC, there are fundamentally two ways in which an investigation of alleged use (IAU) of chemical weapons can be triggered. Both involve requests from States Parties. The first is by submission of a request for a challenge inspection in a situation in which another State Party is alleged to have used chemical weapons. The second is by submission of a request for assistance in accordance with Article X to the DirectorGeneral in a situation in which chemical weapons are alleged to have been used against the requesting State Party, or riot control agents are alleged to have been used against it as a method of warfare. In the case of an Article X request of this sort, an IAU is conducted with two purposes: 1) to establish facts related to the alleged use, and 2) to provide a basis upon which the Executive Council can take a decision with regard to whether or not to instruct the Secretariat to take further action to assist the requesting State Party. An investigation can also be triggered by a request for assistance submitted because a State Party is threatened by actions or activities prohibited by the CWC. This type of investigation differs from an IAU, however, and is therefore not subject to the same procedural requirements.
Once an IAU has been triggered, the Director-General is to dispatch a team at the earliest opportunity (preferably within 24 hours) and inform the Executive Council and all other States Parties of this. Upon entering the ISP, the inspection team is to have the right to access any areas which could have been affected by chemical weapons and also to other areas, such as hospitals and refugee camps. Members of the team may take chemical, environmental and biomedical samples for analysis on-site or off-site at an OPCW-designated laboratory. Team members may also interview victims, eyewitnesses and medical personnel and participate in autopsies. Within 24 hours of arriving in the ISP, the inspection team is to send a situation report to the Director-General. A preliminary report is to be sent within 72 hours of the team's arrival back at The Hague, while a final report is to be submitted within 30 days. The Director-General is to transmit these reports to the Executive Council and all other States Parties. The Executive Council is to consider the reports and take appropriate decisions.
The OPCW is also to respond in cases of alleged use of chemical weapons either involving non-States Parties or taking place in territory not controlled by States Parties. Under such circumstances, the Organisation is to cooperate closely with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, making its resources available if so requested. Such a situation occurred in 2013 when the organisation participated in UN investigations into the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, which was not then a State Party to the Convention. Investigators interviewed survivors and other witnesses, identified munitions used, collected biomedical and environmental samples and sent the samples to OPCW-designated laboratories for analysis. The investigations concluded that chemical weapons had been used.
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