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Investigation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria

Since 2013 there have been continual reports of chemical weapons being deployed in Syria. Their use violates international humanitarian law and all standards of the international community. Moreover, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) prohibits states parties from possessing or deploying chemical weapons of any kind.

As information on their deployment in Syria is often contradictory, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) launched a fact-finding mission in May 2014 to investigate the plausibility of reports concerning the use of chemical weapons. Since then, the fact-finding mission has established that chlorine gas has been systematically used as a weapon on several occasions and that mustard gas and sarin have also been deployed.   

Chlorine gas is a basic chemical which is used in numerous civil applications (e.g. for drinking water disinfection) and is freely available. For this reason, chlorine gas, as opposed to the military warfare agent sarin or mustard gas, for example, is not included on the CWC’s lists of prohibited chemicals. However, the chemical weapons ban includes the use of all toxic chemicals, regardless of whether or not they appear on the CWC lists. The deployment of chlorine gas as a toxic weapon therefore constitutes a clear violation of the CWC and is consequently being investigated by the OPCW.

The Syrian army and IS have deployed chemical weapons  

The armed opposition and the Syrian regime mostly accuse each other of deploying chemical weapons. In order to be able to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice, the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to create the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in August 2015. It launches an investigation as soon as the FFM has established that chemical weapons have been deployed. In 2016, the JIM concluded that the Syrian army was responsible for the use of toxic chemicals in three out of nine meticulously investigated cases. Furthermore, a mustard gas attack has been attributed to the terrorist organisation IS.

Consequences of the use of chemical weapons 

Both the OPCW and the United Nations Security Council have categorically condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria in the strongest possible terms and appealed for those responsible to be brought to justice. The Federal Government has also condemned these violations of international humanitarian law in the strongest possible terms.

However, as Russia does not recognise the findings of the JIM investigations, the United Nations Security Council has not been able to agree to impose sanctions on Syria to date. Russia and China have used their vetos to block resolutions to this end.

The United States and the EU have therefore voted to impose chemical-weapons-related sanctions on Syria on several occasions. Most recently, the EU imposed sanctions on 16 high-ranking Syrian officers and chemical weapons researchers on 17 July 2017.  

Germany’s commitment

In the port of Bremen: the specially equipped US vessel Cape Ray carrying containers with remnants of Syrian mustard gas (5 September 2014)

In the port of Bremen: the specially equipped US vessel Cape Ray carrying containers with remnants of Syrian mustard gas (5 September 2014)
© dpa

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In the port of Bremen: the specially equipped US vessel Cape Ray carrying containers with remnants of Syrian mustard gas (5 September 2014)

In the port of Bremen: the specially equipped US vessel Cape Ray carrying containers with remnants of Syrian mustard gas (5 September 2014)

In the port of Bremen: the specially equipped US vessel Cape Ray carrying containers with remnants of Syrian mustard gas (5 September 2014)

Germany has paid five million euros into the OPCW’s Trust Fund for Syria Missions for the destruction of chemical weapons and supports the OPCW in investigating suspected uses of chemical weapons in Syria (e.g. by providing security training courses for inspectors). Additionally, up to 30 April 2015, approximately 370 tons of mustard gas remnants from Syria were incinerated in an environmentally safe process by the publicly owned disposal company GEKA. Furthermore, German laboratories are frequently involved in the testing of chemical weapon samples from Syria.

The destruction of the chemical weapons is a crucial factor for the security of the international community. Germany is acting in its role as a key member of the EU, the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

For more information about the current situation in Syria and the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, click here (OPCW website).

Background: Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention

Following the use of sarin against civilians on 21 August 2013 in the area surrounding the Syrian capital Damascus, the United States threatened Syria with military action. The United States and Russia subsequently agreed to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons programme, and the Syrian regime expressed its readiness to destroy its chemical weapons. Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on 14 September 2013. Following decisions reached by the United Nations (UN) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the chemical weapons declared by Syria were removed from Syria by sea by June 2014 to be destroyed outside Syria. This task was completed by the end of 2015.

Find out more:

Reports of the OPCW fact-finding mission

Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of 24 August 2016

Report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of 21 October 2016

Report of the Sellström Mission of 13 September 2013

Statement by a Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson on Khan Shaykhun of 30 June 2017

Press release from the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of Defence on the completion of the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in Germany (4 May 2015)


Last updated 26.07.2017

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