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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
Leanne Quinn

Arias Appointed for Second Term at OPCW


January/February 2022
By Leanne Quinn

The member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have decided to renew the appointment of Fernando Arias as the organization’s director-general. His second term will run until July 2026.

Fernando Arias (L), recently appointed to a second term as director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are shown meeting in Moscow in 2019.  (Photo by Vladimir Gerdo\TASS via Getty Images)“In the next few years, I understand that my main mission will be to contribute to build up consensus; to preserve the values of the verification regime, cooperation, and assistance; and to continue modernizing the tools of the secretariat to keep on working in an efficient manner,” Arias said during his acceptance speech on Dec. 1.

Although Russia formally disassociated itself from the decision, it did not call for a vote, and the reappointment was approved by consensus. Prior to serving as director-general, Arias was Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW.

Following the decision, many delegates expressed firm support for Arias’ professionalism and integrity and confidence in his ability to lead the organization for the next four years. The delegates also voiced concern over the challenges facing Arias and the OPCW in the years ahead.

“There is no shortage of challenges ahead,” said Brazilian delegate Paulo Roberto Caminha de Castilhos França. “To name some of the key ones: the ongoing pandemic and its impact on work of the OPCW; the search for ways to reduce the stifling polarization, which undermines trust in this organization; the need to promote equitable geographic representation in order to render the organization more fit for its purpose; and a gradual steering of the OPCW into a new terrain, in which chemical weapons will have finally been eliminated.”

Arias’ election was one of several decisions that took place during the 26th conference of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which convened in The Hague from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3.

One issue involved the aerosolized use of central nervous system-acting chemicals by law enforcement. When used under controlled medical conditions, chemicals that modify these functions, such as the opioid fentanyl, are considered safe. In a 2018 report, the OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board recognized that these chemicals “can have a very low safety margin when delivered as an aerosol” and that their use has “resulted in permanent harm and death.”

The only large-scale use to date occurred in October 2002 when Russian special forces deployed aerosolized central nervous system-acting chemicals to end an armed siege of the Moscow Dubrovka Theater. Although hostages were freed, 125 individuals died as a result of the effects of the chemicals.

The OPCW conference adopted an understanding that the aerosolized use of these chemicals for law enforcement purposes should not be permitted under the CWC. The decision was passed with 85 member states in favor; 10, including China and Russia, against; and 33 member states abstaining. It also called for continued research on these chemicals by the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board.

The United States, a co-sponsor of the initiative, lauded the vote in a State Department press release, noting that “this decision sends a clear signal that countries cannot hide their work to advance an offensive capability for the aerosolized use of central nervous system-acting chemicals under the guise of doing so for law enforcement.” While welcoming the conference decision, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Bradford University have called for the prohibition to also cover law enforcement weapons employing these chemicals delivered by non-aerosolized means and to cover toxic chemicals that act on other human physiological systems.

No resolution was reached regarding the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (See ACT, November 2021.) Fifty-five member states produced a joint statement once again calling on Russia to cooperate fully with the OPCW in a thorough and transparent investigation of the incident, including negotiating a technical assistance visit with the OPCW.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) members reappointed Fernando Arias as director-general.

45 OPCW States Demand Answers About Navalny


November 2021
By Leanne Quinn

Forty-five nations have demanded that Russia clarify and resolve unanswered questions regarding its handling of the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of poisoning him, remains imprisoned in Moscow. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)The action was taken last month during a meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Executive Council. The UK-led joint statement invoked Article XI of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which allows states to request clarification of any matter relating to the implementation of the convention. Russia was given 10 days to clarify what steps it has taken and plans to take to address the Navalny incident. Russia was also instructed to explain why it has not negotiated a technical assistance visit with the OPCW, the global chemical weapons watchdog, to investigate the incident.

Supporters of the joint statement included the European Union, Australia, Canada, and the United States, among others. Speaking for the 45 states-parties, Krassimir Kostov, the Bulgarian representative to the OPCW, explained why clarification from Russia was needed.

“The Russian Federation has not yet provided a credible explanation of the incident that took place on its soil. We have no knowledge of any internal investigations taking place in the Russian Federation, nor do we know what, if anything, the Russian Federation will do to prevent future uses of chemical weapons on its territory,” Kostov said.

After falling ill on a domestic flight in Russia on Aug. 20, 2020, Navalny received emergency medical treatment at a hospital in Omsk, Russia. He was moved from Omsk to the Charite Hospital in Berlin on Aug. 22. By Sept. 3, German experts had determined that Navalny was poisoned by a “nerve agent from the so-called Novichok group.”

Germany submitted a request for a technical assistance visit from the OPCW to confirm the identity of the chemical agent. An OPCW team traveled to Germany on Sept. 4 and collected biomedical samples from Navalny. Analysis of the samples by the OPCW laboratory near The Hague, as well as OPCW-certified laboratories in France and Sweden, confirmed Germany’s findings.

On Oct. 1, 2020, Russia reached out to the OPCW regarding a possible technical assistance visit to “cooperate with Russian experts in studying the results of Alexey Navalny’s tests to determine signs of a possible crime on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

But Russia did not agree to the terms of the visit proposed by the OPCW, and talks reached a stalemate. Last month’s OPCW joint statement called on Russia to answer “why the Russian Federation has been unable to accept the standard modalities for such a visit.”

Russia responded on Oct. 7 with its own set of questions for France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the OPCW, along with a 230-plus-page note verbale containing mostly German and Russian official OPCW correspondence about the Navalny incident.

“Today, effectively two days ahead of the deadline, Russia provided its worthy and legally calibrated response to the request of the 45 states,” Alexander Shulgin, Russian representative to the OPCW, said during an interview with the Russian news agency TASS.

“Simultaneously, we have initiated a request of our own. On the record and in attendance of all members of the OPCW Executive Council, we once again handed over an entire list of questions to Germany, France, and Sweden regarding this muddy story and their role in the spectacle they have staged themselves,” Shulgin added.

Germany responded that Russia’s note verbale “does not contain any answers to the set of questions” asked by the 45 states-parties and rejected Russia’s “attempts to discredit other states-parties as well as to question the impartiality and professionalism” of the OPCW.

One Russian question asked why the formula for the Novichok nerve agent identified by the OPCW, French, German, and Swedish laboratories was being “hidden” from Russian experts. Russia insists that the biomedical samples taken from Navalny while he was in the Omsk hospital do not show any evidence of the nerve agent.

The UK responded that Russia “had full access to the patient, affording the opportunity to recover biomedical samples of the kind which five separate laboratories used to establish the presence of a cholinesterase inhibitor structurally similar” to Novichok.

Several other questions focused on Maria Pevchikh, one of Navalny’s colleagues. Russia asked why there “were traces of some kind of chemicals found on the water bottle [Pevchikh] bought in the airport departure area.” It also asked why her role “in the whole affair [was] so carefully concealed.”

Germany countered that “the traces found by German experts on the water bottle which had been collected from Mr. Navalny’s hotel room are identical with the traces found in the biomedical samples taken from Mr. Navalny” and called on Russia “to investigate the events that took place on Russian territory.” The UK responded that “media reports have documented [Pevchikh’s] role in Mr. Navalny’s anti-corruption organization.”

It was clear from this exchange that the two sides disagree on the basic facts of the case.

If the UK deems Russia’s clarification to be inadequate or Russia deems the clarifications of France, Germany, Sweden, the UK, and the OPCW to be inadequate, the requesting parties can call on the OPCW director-general to “establish a group of experts from the Technical Secretariat…to examine all available information” and report its findings. If the parties are still not satisfied, they could call for a special session of the OPCW Executive Council to consider the matter and recommend an appropriate solution. The Navalny incident is likely to remain a matter of contention at the annual conference of CWC states-parties in November.

Forty-five nations have demanded that Russia clarify and resolve unanswered questions regarding its handling of the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

US Chemical Weapons Stockpile Elimination: Progress Update

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Thursday, September 23, 2021
10:00am - 11:30am Washington, DC time

As part of its treaty obligations to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United States must finish destroying all of its declared chemical weapons stockpiles by September 2023. 

With two years remaining before the stockpile elimination deadline, the CWC Coalition seeks to discuss what has been accomplished, what still lie ahead, and the importance of meeting the 2023 deadline. 

Since becoming a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, the United States has worked steadily to destroy its declared chemical weapons stockpiles. As of May 2021, the United States has destroyed 96.52% of its Category 1 chemical weapons stockpile and all of its Category 2 and Category 3 chemical weapons. The United States is the last of eight declared stockpile possessor states to complete its safe and permanent demilitarization of chemical weapons. 

Speakers:

  • Dr. Brandi Vann, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Defense
  • Irene Kornelly, Chair of the Colorado Citizens' Advisory Commission
  • Paul Walker, Coordinator, Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition, moderating

This discussion was on the record. This recording can also be found on the CWC Coalition website.

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Reinforcing the Norm Against Chemical Weapons: The April 20-22 Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention

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May 10, 2021
10:00 AM Eastern Time

The Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition, in cooperation with the Arms Control Association, hosted this briefing to review the results and implications of the 25th Conference of States Parties for the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the CWC regime. 

Opening remarks were provided by H.E. Fernando Arias, Director-General of the OPCW. Following, we heard from 

  • Amb. Lisa Helfand, Permanent Representative of Canada to the OPCW
  • Amb. Gudrun Lingner, Permanent Representative of Germany to the OPCW
  • Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, independent disarmament and security researcher at The Trench
  • Dr. Paul Walker, moderator, Coordinator, Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition

KEY QUOTES

Director-General Fernando Arias:
“The civil society community of non-governmental organizations, researchers, scientists, and other relevant stakeholders are essential partners in achieving the OPCW’s mission and raising awareness about the risks posed by certain chemicals. The Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition has played a critical role in this regard by coordinating and supporting civil society engagement with the OPCW through the Conference of the State’s Parties.”
“The report of the Fact Finding Mission related to the incident in Douma on the 7th of April 2018 is still the object of discussion between some member states. The Fact Finding Mission released its report on the 1st of March, 2019. In its report, the Fact Finding Mission concluded reasonable grounds that the use of chlorine as a weapon likely took place. ... None of the 193 member states of the organization have challenged the findings of the Fact Finding Mission that chlorine was found on the scene of the attack in Douma.”
“As we count down to mark the 25th anniversary of the organization in 2022, we need to acknowledge that our world today is very different to the one in 1997 when it was founded. To meet the challenges, it is imperative for us to keep adapting and evolving in an ever changing global landscape. Preventing re-emergence will require the commitment and the efforts of all stakeholders - civil society, government, and chemical industry.”

RESOURCES
The following resources provide supplemental information on the topic of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and strengthening the norm against chemical weapons use. 

If you wish to remain informed on this or other topics, including future webinars, please sign up and indicate your interests at www.armscontrol.org/get-the-latest

 

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 this briefing on the results and implications of the 25th Conference of States Parties for the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the CWC regime.

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States Censure Syria for Chemical Weapons Violations


May 2021
By Leanne Quinn and Julia Masterson

Member states of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog have voted to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in an effort to hold that country accountable for repeated chemical weapons use.

Delegates participate at the 25th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention in April 2021. (Photo: OPCW)The decision, adopted April 21 by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), marked a historic step toward restoring the global norm against chemical weapons. It was the first time the organization had suspended a member’s rights since the OPCW’s inception in 1997.

Led by France and supported by 46 member states, the move means that Syria's rights to vote, stand for election, and hold any office within the organization have been suspended. The measure, which required a two-thirds’ majority to pass, was adopted on a 87–15 vote at the second session of the 25th conference of the CWC in The Hague. Syria, China, and Russia, a major ally of the Syrian government, were among the nations opposed. There were 34 abstentions. Negotiations on a consensus proposal failed.

The decision came as no surprise. On April 12, the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) released its report concluding that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that on Feb. 4, 2018, a Syrian Air Force helicopter hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder that disbursed toxic chlorine gas over a large area.

The IIT’s first report, issued in 2020, found the Syrian Air Force responsible for three chemical weapons attacks on Syrian territory in March 2017, using sarin, a volatile nerve agent, and chlorine. The IIT was established in June 2018 with a mandate to identify the perpetrators of all instances of chemical weapons use in Syria.

Following that first report, the organization’s 41-member Executive Council condemned Syria for its documented and repeated use of chemical weapons. The council gave Syria 90 days to declare all of its chemical weapons and related facilities, as well as to resolve 19 outstanding issues regarding its facilities and stockpile declaration to the OPCW.

The council recommended that the conference take action pursuant to CWC Article 12, which provides that the conference may “restrict or suspend the State Party’s rights and privileges...until it undertakes the necessary action to conform with its obligations,” at its next meeting if Syria failed to meet the deadline. In October, OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias confirmed that Syria had not made progress toward meeting any of the mandates, setting the stage for this month’s action.

Joanna Roper, the UK ambassador to the organization, said the decision was “a measured response” to uphold the CWC provisions and the integrity of the oversight organization. Rania Alrifaiy, Syria’s delegate, urged member states to “reject the fabricated allegations” and vote against the draft to prevent the OPCW from being converted into a political tool.

Arias said, “[T]he conference of the states-parties reaffirmed that the use of chemical weapons is the most serious breach of the convention there can be, as people’s lives are taken or destroyed.” He added, “By deciding to address the possession and use of chemical weapons by a state-party, the conference has reiterated the international community’s ethical commitment to uphold the norm against these weapons.”

Many of the countries voting against the measure expressed concern about the perceived politicization of the OPCW and the legitimacy of the IIT. Some states also took issue with the motivation behind the decision and the voting procedures.

Russia, in particular, complained that the organization and its investigators exceeded their mandate. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s representative to the UN, alleged that the OPCW was being used as a political tool. “Our Western colleagues...attempt to mobilize public opinion against Syrian authorities with a sole purpose, and it is not about upholding the nonproliferation regime. It is all about regime change.” But other countries defended the impartiality and integrity of the organization’s technical experts.

The latest report considered various hypotheses as to how the incident occurred, including Syria’s claim that it was staged by terrorist groups. The investigation found those leads were “not supported by any concrete evidence” and appeared to be based on conclusions that involved materials the Syrian government did not share with the IIT, despite requests for access.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned the report and “categorically denies its use of poison gas in the town of Saraqib or any other Syrian town or village.”

During the April conference, 58 member states also issued a joint statement that “condemn[ed] in the strongest possible terms the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon in the Russian Federation against Alexei Navalny,” the Russian political dissident who was attacked in August 2020 on a domestic airplane flight in Russia. They reaffirmed that “any poisoning of an individual with a nerve agent is considered use of a chemical weapon” and that “the use of chemical weapons anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstances is unacceptable and contravenes international standards and norms against such use.”

The OPCW collected biomedical samples from Navalny in September and determined he had been exposed to a toxic chemical of the Novichok family.

Novichok is a form of nerve agent, and certain Novichok agents are included on the CWC Schedule 1 annex on chemicals, which demarcates those chemicals as banned under the treaty. The agent that sickened Navalny is not included on that list, but the use of any chemical as a weapon is expressly prohibited by the CWC.

The 58 states committed to stay engaged with the issue until the OPCW investigation into Navalny’s poisoning is resolved. “It is our firm conviction that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,” the members concluded. The OPCW Executive Council is due to meet July 6–9, when Navalny’s poisoning will again be discussed.

For the first time, member states of the world's chemical weapons watchdog have suspended a state's rights under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

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