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The Fifth Review Conference of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

The Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, applied to participate in the conference as responders and documenters of chemical attacks in Syria. Unfortunately, their application was rejected.

The Fifth Review Conference of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is currently underway at the organization's headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. This conference serves as a platform for reviewing the Chemical Weapons Convention and runs from Monday, May 15 to May 19.

Attending this conference are the States Parties to the Convention, as well as select non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have been accepted based on their application and adherence to the principles established by the Member States. The inclusion of NGOs aims to promote transparency and ensure the representation of civil society organizations actively engaged in supporting the goals of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Among the organizations that sought to participate in the conference, the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, applied in their capacity as responders and documenters of chemical attacks in Syria. Unfortunately, their request, along with those of several human rights organizations and other civil society groups, was rejected. This refusal, along with past instances where certain countries obstructed the participation of NGOs, including the White Helmets, in the annual conference of the OPCW Member States held on November 30, 2021, is seen as a purely political measure without any legal or professional basis.

Such rejections of participation from the White Helmets and other organizations supporting the OPCW's efforts are viewed as attempts to undermine the global fight against chemical weapons. It highlights the need to address this issue and ensure that all stakeholders, including NGOs, have a platform to contribute their expertise and efforts towards achieving the goals of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Review Conference is held every five years and provides a valuable opportunity for all states parties to evaluate the operations of the Chemical Weapons Convention during the previous five years. It allows them to identify any problems and difficulties that the organization faced in implementing the convention and to define the strategic direction of the organization for the next five years and beyond. The conference covers various aspects of the organization's work, including verification, assistance, protection, international cooperation, capacity development, and communication.

 Furthermore, the conference serves as a platform to address internal reforms within the organization, aiming to ensure its adaptability in a rapidly evolving security landscape. The objective is to uphold the organization's ability to effectively fulfill the entrusted tasks from the states parties while navigating the dynamic security environment.

The chemical weapons program of the Assad regime presents one of the organization's most intricate challenges due to the regime's explicit violations of the provisions outlined in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it ratified in 2013. Investigation teams have substantiated the use of chemical weapons in 17 locations, and official reports have confirmed the Assad regime's responsibility for deploying chemical weapons in nine of these instances. The latest report from the Identification Team (IIT) released on January 27, 2023, documented the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon against civilians in the city of Douma on April 7, 2018.

The issue of pending matters pertaining to the initial declaration and subsequent declarations of the Assad regime regarding its chemical weapons program continues to be a significant concern for both the OPCW and its member states. The regime's declaration is regarded as both inaccurate and questionable, as it fails to fully adhere to the terms of the agreement and violates the provisions of Resolution 2118, as indicated by reports from investigation and inspection teams.

On May 8, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, presented her monthly briefing to the UN Security Council regarding the elimination of the Assad regime's chemical weapons program, in line with Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013). She expressed her regret over the limited progress achieved in all the endeavors undertaken by the OPCW Technical Secretariat and the Organization's efforts to arrange further consultations between the assessment team and the Assad regime regarding the ban on chemical weapons.

During her briefing, she elaborated on the actions taken by the Technical Secretariat, revealing that Syria was provided with a list of outstanding declarations and requested documents since 2019. These documents are crucial for addressing the current pending issues. She emphasized that there are still 20 unresolved matters and underscored the fact that the Technical Secretariat has not yet received any of the required declarations or documents from Syria.

The UN official emphasized once again that the declaration provided by Syria (the Assad regime) cannot be deemed accurate and comprehensive in alignment with the Chemical Weapons Convention, given the persisting gaps and unresolved inconsistencies identified within the declaration.

The White Helmets responded to more than 50 chemical attacks across Syria and provided first aid to the victims, documenting these attacks and providing the OPCW with more than 100 samples as evidence of chemical attacks. In addition, many of its volunteers provided testimonies. As first responders to attacks as well as victims, the evidence presented is cited in several OPCW reports. 

While recognizing the significance of the reports published by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, it is crucial to address not only the identification of those responsible for carrying out the attacks but also to emphasize the imperative of holding accountable anyone who dares to employ chemical weapons. Such acts flagrantly violate international law and the Chemical Weapons Convention. The absence of accountability for these grievous offenses poses a severe threat to international peace and security, endangering not only our collective well-being but also the fundamental values that define humanity.