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Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)

Handling chemical weapons is highly risky

Handling chemical weapons is highly risky, © picture-alliance/dpa

22.03.2019 - Article

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force on 29 April 1997. It prohibits the development, production, possession, transfer and use of chemical weapons and has brought about a ban under international law of an entire category of weapons.

The Federal Government considers the CWC to be one of the most successful multilateral disarmament treaties.

The States Parties have an obligation to inform the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of all their chemical weapons and production facilities and to destroy them under international supervision. Chemicals, equipment and facilities that are particularly suitable for use in the production of chemical weapons are also subject to restrictions and verification inspections. All the data that CWC States Parties need to declare are subject to systematic on-site verification. These inspections take the CWC beyond the simple prohibition and elimination of weapons of mass destruction. It plays a pivotal role in ensuring chemical weapons are not proliferated.

Universal application of the CWC almost achieved

With 193 States Parties, the CWC is almost universally applicable. Only four members of the United Nations have not yet acceded to the CWC: Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan.

List of OPCW States Parties

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

The CWC’s entry into force saw the establishment of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based in The Hague. The OPCW monitors the States Parties’ implementation of and adherence to the CWC. One of its principal tasks is to conduct on-site inspections, systematically verifying that declared chemical weapons and production facilities and are indeed being destroyed. In addition, regular inspections in the chemicals industry relevant to the CWC are intended to consolidate trust and guarantee that its activities only serve purposes which the Convention does not prohibit. The OPCW also promotes international cooperation for peaceful purposes in the chemical sphere. If need be, it can coordinate protection and assistance for the victims of a chemical weapons attack. On 11 October 2013, the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its comprehensive commitment to destroying chemical weapons.

The OPCW acts through the annual Conference of the States Parties, its Executive Council (the 41-member permanent executive organ, of which Germany is a member) and its Technical Secretariat. At Review Conferences held every five years, the implementation of the CWC is evaluated and recommendations on the OPCW’s future work are adopted. Fernando Arias (Spain) has served as Director-General of the Technical Secretariat since July 2018.

Germany's Permanent Representation to the OPCW

Destruction of chemical weapons

Since the CWC’s entry into force, 70,000 tonnes of chemical weapons representing 97% of the States Parties’ declared global stocks have been verifiably destroyed. Most recently, the OPCW certified on 28 February 2018 that Iraq had completely destroyed its declared stock of chemical weapon remains. The United States currently plans to destroy its remaining chemical weapons by 2023.

Following the use of chemical weapons on 21 August 2013 near Damascus, Syria was required to disclose its chemical weapons programme and to destroy all of its chemical weapons. This action was based on the decisions of the OPCW Executive Council (EC-M-33/DEC.1) and on UN Security Council Resolution 2118. Because of the civil war in Syria, the declared chemical weapons were moved out of Syria and destroyed abroad. However, the OPCW has stated it doubts that Syria declared all of its weapons and all parts of its chemical weapons programme. There have also been recurring reports of chemical weapons use in Syria. Since 2014, the OPCW has been investigating these reports through a Fact Finding Mission to determine whether chemical weapons were actually employed. The UN Security Council and the OPCW have established the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which aims to identify the perpetrators of the employment of chemical weapons in Syria. During its mandate, the JIM presented seven reports indicating use of mustard gas by the Islamic State in two cases and responsibility for the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian regime/armed forces in several others, as well as the use of sarin during the attack on Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017, an attack which claimed some 100 lives. Due to a Russian veto in November 2017, the JIM’s mandate was not renewed. Germany is thus supporting the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. At a Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties in June 2018, a decision was taken not least at Germany’s initiative to grant the OPCW the mandate to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. To this end, the OPCW appointed an Attribution Team.

UN Security Council Resolution 2118

Up-to-date OPCW information on Syria

Seventh report of the OPCW/UN Joint Investigative Mechanism

EU offers support through the CFSP

The EU has supported the work of the OPCW with Joint Actions and Council Decisions as part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). One focus is on projects to help States Parties transpose their CWC obligations into national law. The EU also fosters cooperation on the use of chemicals for peaceful purposes and on protection from chemical weapons.

Germany and the CWC

With a regular contribution of some 4.2 million euros, Germany is one of the largest contributors to the OPCW and also supports the organisation through payments to a Trust Fund. In 2018, it contributed more than one million euros for assistance and protection from chemical weapons and to improve IT security in the OPCW. In 2018, Germany also enabled non-governmental organisations to attend the Conference of the States Parties and the Review Conference. The great importance Germany attaches to the CWC is also reflected in the fact that Germany is one of the few countries with a separate mission to the OPCW in The Hague. Two laboratories operated by the Federal Ministry of Defence, namely the Bundeswehr Research Institute for Protective Technologies and CBRN Protection and the Bundeswehr Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, are assisting the OPCW with the analysis of samples. Furthermore, the Bundeswehr regularly conducts training courses for OPCW inspectors to prepare them for fieldwork. Germany is helping eliminate chemical weapons that originate from other CWC countries. Since August 2013, Germany has supported the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons by providing 5 million euros, training OPCW personnel and disposing of the chemical remnants of the weapons themselves.

Between 2002 and 2015, Germany helped Russia destroy many of its chemical weapons through considerable financial and technical support as part of the G8 Global Partnership initiative. In October 2017, the OPCW Director-General confirmed the successful destruction of declared Russian chemical weapons stocks. Germany also helped Libya destroy chemical weapons dating back to the Gaddafi regime. Between 2016 and 2018, toxic chemicals from the former Libyan chemical weapons programme were successfully destroyed in Germany and a ceremony was held in January 2018 attended by OPCW Director-General Üzümcü and Libyan Foreign Minister Siala.

In March 2018, the OPCW Director-General confirmed the complete destruction of declared chemical weapons stocks in Iraq. Germany had helped the country destroy its remaining chemical weapons stocks by providing a mobile laboratory and protective Equipment.

The chemicals industry in Germany, like those of the other States Parties, is regularly inspected by the OPCW.

The Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control collates the data on relevant chemicals provided by the German chemicals sector and prepares them for reporting to the OPCW. As the national authority for the CWC, the Federal Foreign Office is Germany’s contact to the OPCW and the other States Parties.

Support for projects: Courses on chemical safety management

Professor Uli Barth lecturing during the OPCW course at Bergische Universität Wuppertal
Professor Uli Barth lecturing during the OPCW course at Bergische Universität Wuppertal © Bergische Universität Wuppertal

Under Article XI of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the 193 States Parties seek to promote the exchange of scientific and technical information for the production, processing or use of chemicals for purposes not prohibited under the Convention. Germany has a particularly strong chemical industry – it is the third largest importer and one of the largest exporters of chemical and pharmaceutical products in the world. As such, it aims to promote this scientific exchange. Since 2009, it has been offering, in cooperation with the OPCW safety management, courses in the chemical industry (Wuppertal Annual Course of Loss Prevention and Safety Promotion in the Chemical Process Industries). The Federal Foreign Office funds the courses run by the Bergische Universität Wuppertal and the OPCW helps with the selection each year of 24 course participants, who come from Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean. The courses provide knowledge about, skills for and insight into long-term chemical safety management. This, among other things, helps minimise the risk of dangerous chemicals falling into the hands of non-state actors, who may use these for prohibited purposes, including terrorism.

The following short film gives an overview of the course: www.youtube.com

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