Syria’s chemical weapons declaration incomplete and inconsistent

OPCW experts collecting samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical attack OPCW experts collecting samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical attack Reuters

11 December 2020

The OPCW criticized Syria for failing to respond to 19 issues related to its chemical weapons stockpile and programme

Within the framework of the U.N. Security Council’s monthly meeting on Syria’s chemical weapons,  Mr. Fernando Arias, the Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the world body responsible for monitoring States’ implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, briefed members for the first time since May. He states that, “Syria’s initial declaration still cannot be considered accurate and complete” and “has unresolved gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies”. Russia, an important Syrian ally in the region, sought to rebut  the accusations through its Ambassador to the U.N. Mr Vasily Nebenzya. He accused the OPCW of using double standards by backing Western nations and maintaining an anti-Syrian narrative despite evidence to the contrary provided by Syria, Russia and independent experts.

After a recent round of discussions  between the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team and Syria  in Damascus, only three out of 22 issues were closed, while the other 19 remain unresolved. One item is particularly controversial as it is related to a chemical weapons production facility which President Bashar al Assad’s government claimed had never been used to produce weapons. However, the OPCW found materials, which suggest that chemical warfare agents were produced at this facility. In addition, in its statement,  Syria did not address  the fact that  thousands of ammunitions and tons of chemical agents  were found in its territory but not accounted for by the government, which failed to declare the exact number of chemical weapons in its possession.

The Syrian government has been accused by the OPCW and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch of having used chlorine and the nerve agent sarin several  times during the civil war such as in August 2013, when the Syrian forces allegedly carried out a sarin attack on opposition-controlled Ghouta. Since then, the regime has been accused of having carried out several chemical attacks despite the country’s accession in September of the same year to the Convention on Chemical Weapons, which outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of such weapons. On 8 April, the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat released a report which concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Force used chemical weapons in Ltamenah, Hama Governorate, on three occasions in March 2017 and in Douma, near Damascus, in April 2018. However, Syria never confirmed that it had made use of chemical agents and persistently  denied the accusations of the OPCW and the western countries' Security Council members.


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Author: Michele Pitta

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