Tag Archive | "Chemical Weapons"

demonstrations in syria in 2011

The Chemical Weapons Convention: Preventative Measures Against Horror (Part 3 of 3)

This is the third blog post in a series of three blog posts discussing how the Chemical Weapons Convention prevents the use of chemical weapons through proactive measures by prohibiting both the use of and the preparation to use chemical weapons.  The first blog post described key features of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  The second blog post compared the Chemical Weapons Convention to other sources of international law addressing chemical weapons.  This third and final blog post examines recent events in Syrian Arab Republic, as a case study, to illustrate the concepts discussed in the first and second blog posts.

 

Part III: Chemical Weapons and the Syrian Civil War

War is crushing the Syrian Arab Republic (“Syria”).  The Chemical Weapons Convention (“CWC”) cannot fix the all the problems in Syria, but hopefully it can fix the problem of chemical weapons.[i]  Removing such a destructive force from the arsenal of the government and preventing further use of chemical weapons on civilians would be no small achievement.  This final blog post describes the role of international law in addressing the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  First, this post summarizes the conflict in Syria to date.  Next, it describes the international reaction to the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013.  Finally, this post explains the importance of Syria’s adoption of the CWC, and examines potential obstacles from allegations of new chlorine gas attacks in Syria during April 2014.

 

A. Background on the Syrian Civil War

demonstrations in syria in 2011

Political demonstrations in Syria in 2011 (AFP/Ghetty Images)

The Syrian conflict started in March 2011, when government security forces fired live ammunition at protesters.  The pro-democracy protests started during the “Arab Spring,” with demonstrations against authoritarian law and corruption in the government led by president Bashar al-Assad.  By the end of 2011, a full-fledged civil war raged in Syria.  Generally, government forces are fighting to preserve the current Assad regime, and rebels are fighting to topple the Assad regime.  However, the opposition-rebel forces lack ideological cohesiveness, and “at this point, a revolt against a dictatorship has morphed into a sectarian conflict with diverse international sponsors.”[ii]  Russia and Iran support the government forces.

The rebels have various underwriters and various—sometimes incompatible—goals.  One 2013 report asserted that “the rebels” really consisted of 1,000 sub-groups, but those groups typically align themselves with one of the larger opposition groupsInfighting between rebel groups has fractured the opposition forces.  Many radicalized, non-Syrian, and sectarian motivated, fighters make up the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIS”); “al-Sham” refers to Syria, Greater Syria, or the Levant “in the context of global jihad.”   Most news sources describe ISIS as an al-Qaeda affiliate, but ISIS and al-Qaeda may have broken ties.  Reports attribute both sectarian and secular motives to the various homegrown groups of rebel fighters.  The Western-backed, Free Syrian Army (“FSA”) may provide some hope for Syrian stability, but the FSA faces challenges with fighting against al-Assad and against ISIS.  ISIS reportedly murdered an FSA commander last year.  The FSA itself is fractured.  Additionally, the Syrian National Coalition represents opposition interests during non-violent negotiations, such as the failed Geneva peace talks, and recently attempted to gain a seat in the Arab League.

The Syrian civil war includes some sectarian conflict between the ruling minority Alawites and the majority Sunni population.  Sunni Muslims make up 74% of the Syrian population, and the majority of rebel fighters.  Alawites make up just 12% of the Syrian population, but Alawites hold a disproportionate number of positions “in Syria’s security apparatus, government and military leadership” due to the Alawite al-Assad family’s control over Syria for the last forty years.  The Alawi faith shares some theological beliefs and roots with Shi’a Islam, but the Alawites broke from the Shi’ites 1,000 years ago.

Irrespective of the initial or current ideological basis for this war, its costs should not be underestimated.  More than 150,000 people have died, including 51,212 civilians.  Civilians comprise one-third of the casualties in the Syrian civil war.  According to the UNHCR, more than 2.5 million refugees fled Syria.  Humanitarian organizations and journalists accuse both the rebels and the government of various war crimes.[iii]  Some rebels—though most reports attribute this behavior to radicalized groups, such as ISIS—target civilians based on location and on religion.  Human Rights Watch reports that rebels kidnapped and murdered Alawite civilians.  ISIS also targets Christians, and in one city, reportedly charges Christian males seventeen grams of gold to guarantee their safety.  Rebels recently released two Spanish journalists after six months in captivity.

refugee camp in damascus

Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus in Jan. 2014
(UNRWA—Getty Images)

The government regularly targets, kidnaps, tortures, and murders civilians.  Government forces kill women, children, and babies in  to intimidate and diminish support for the opposition.  They target airstrikes on civilians by dropping “barrel bombs” from helicopters on neighborhoods that support the rebels.  Barrel bombs—oil drums filled with shrapnel and explosives—are “devastating and indiscriminate weapons.”    More civilians than fighters have died in government airstrikes.  Government forces began blocking injured civilians from medical treatment and snatching the injured from hospital beds immediately after the protests broke out in 2011.[iv]  Government forces also kidnap, torture, and murder doctors who treat those injured within rebel held areas.  Clearly, the use of chemical weapons only represents one horror in this war.

 

B. International Reaction to Use of Chemical Weapons on Syrian Civilians

The international community’s response to the atrocities occurring in the Syrian civil war is generally divided.  For example, in July 2012, Russia and China vetoed a third United Nations’ (“U.N.”) measure designed to pressure al-Assad with sanctions.  Russia continues to block any measures that could result in military intervention against al-Assad.  Perhaps there is some truth to statements that social media is more useful to Syrians than the U.N. Security Council.

Similarly, the international community responded haphazardly to reports of the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians last year.  International law provided no option for preemptive measures to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  As discussed in the first post of this series, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (“OPCW”) investigators could not investigate the chemical weapons capabilities of Syria before it adopted the CWC.  As discussed in the second post of this series, no source of international law—other than the CWC—enables investigation or sanctions against a country for preparing to use chemical weapons.  Thus, until Syria ratified the CWC in 2013, under international law, nothing could be done about the reported chemical weapons stockpile held by the Syrian government since the 1970s.

After allegations of actual use of chemical weapons surfaced in Syria, the applicable international law changed.  International treaty law still provided no solution.  Syria acceded to the Geneva Protocol in 1968, but the Geneva Protocol could not protect civilians in Syria’s civil war because—as described in the second blog post of this series—the Geneva Protocol does not apply to non-international conflicts.  However, customary international law prohibits the use of chemical weapons in non-international conflict.  Under the Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, established in 1987, the U.N. Secretary-General can initiate investigations into alleged use of chemical weapons.[v]  Thus, the U.N. Secretary-General established theU.N. Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic (“U.N. Mission”) on March 21, 2013 in response to reports of chemical weapons use in Syria.[vi]  Upon request of the U.N., both the OPCW and the World Health Organization provided resources to assist the U.N. investigation.  Before the U.N. asked for the OPCW’s help, the OPCW put out this press release, which noted its concern about alleged chemical weapons use in Syria and its availability to the U.N. under the CWC’s terms.  Syria was not a party tothe CWC at that time, but the terms of the CWC require the OPCW to “put its resources at the disposal of the Secretary-General” upon a U.N. request for assistance regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons by a non-party to the CWC.[vii]

The U.N. Mission confirmed five instances of chemical weapons use in Syria in 2013 in the “Ghouta area of Damascus on 21 August 2013, [and] on a smaller scale in Jobar on 24 August 2013, Saraqeb on 29 April 2013, Ashrafiah Sahnaya on 25 August 2013 and Khan Al Asal on 19 March 2013.”[viii]  After confirming the use of chemical weapons, the U.N. initially took no position on which side used the weapons.  The final report from the U.N. Mission focused on the scientific proof for each site and the methodology used to confirm chemical weapons use. but other analysts suggested that the forensic evidence in the September 2013 report pointed to the al-Assad government.  However, in a report issued in March of 2014, U.N. investigators attributed at least some of the attacks to the government due to “the nature, quality and quantity of the agents.”

opcw inspectors in syria

OPCW inspectors in Syria (BBC)

On September 14, 2013, following the U.N. Mission’s report, a U.S.-Russian diplomatic intervention produced a chemical weapons disarmament settlement.  As part of the settlement, Syria agreed to adopt the CWC and submit to its extensive verification regime.  Presumably, the Syrian government only agreed to the disarmament to prevent unilateral U.S. military intervention, a distinct possibility before the settlement.  On September 19, 2013, the U.S. and Russia described the plan for Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament in a joint letter to the U.N.; the annex to that letter described the accelerated destruction plan for Syria and the actions the U.S. and Russia would take in the OPCW’s Executive Council to implement the plan.  Within a week, the Security Council unanimously adopted S.C. Resolution 2118, which enacted the plan and required accelerated OPCW action  to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.[ix]

If Syria fails to follow the requirements of the CWC and the OPCW, Resolution 2118 provides a clear path for U.N.-backed intervention.  If the U.N. never acts, as described in the first blog post, the CWC theoretically provides an alternative mechanism for collective action by State Parties for non-compliance with the CWC.

 

C. The OPCW and the CWC in Syria

The progress since Syria ratified the CWC is promising.  Syria is generally cooperating with the accelerated destruction schedule for its chemical weapons.  A team of U.N. and OPCW specialists is working together in Syria.  On October 24, 2013, Syria submitted formal initial declarations to the OPCW, in compliance with the timeline set by the Executive Council.[i]  The OPCW-U.N. team visited most of the sites declared in the initial declarations that followed Syria’s adoption of the CWC.  The team started destroying those sites with “low tech, quick and cheap” methods, including smashing equipment and filling it in with concrete.  The OPCW-U.N. Joint Mission reported the removal of half of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in March, the removal of 72.3%, as of April 16, 2014, and the removal of 92.5%, as of April 24, 2014.  After months of progress towards the deadline for complete destruction by the end of June, recent reports call into question whether Syria will meet that deadline.

At the time of writing, the Syrian civil war rages on.  As part of the agreement in September, Syria agreed to attend peace talks with the opposition.  Unfortunately, those peace talks failed.  After Syria agreed to the disarmament deal in September 2013, many expressed concern that removing chemical weapons received too much focus.  Unfortunately, as a corollary to al-Assad’s agreeing to chemical weapons disarmament and ratification of the CWC, most serious pressure from the West has stopped.  As part of a plea for help from the West, one Syrian opposition leader said, “Assad has handed over the chemical weapons to save himself.”  France is pushing the Security Council for ICC prosecution of Syrian war crimes, despite the likely Russian veto.  Ban Ki-moon also criticizes the lack of access for aid to 9.3 million civilians.  Hopefully these issues will be addressed after Syria—again, hopefully—meets the upcoming chemical weapons disarmament deadline.

 

D. Conclusions and Future Concerns

Like any specialized legal system, the CWC cannot solve all the problems in this domestic conflict.  The CWC’s narrow purpose is to prevent the use and the possibility of the use of chemical weapons.  To this end, the OPCW already removed huge amounts of chemical weapons from Syria and destroyed its chemical weapons factories.  The al-Assad government agreed to intrusive OPCW monitoring.  Even if the Syrian civil war continues, the CWC provides strong, but imperfect, protection against one of the worst war atrocities.  The CWC and the OPCW will be tested by recent allegations that chemical weapons attacks occurred in Syria in April 2014.

Unfortunately, both the rebels and the government agree that at least one new chemical weapons attack recently occurred in Syria.  The rebels blame the government and the government blames the rebels for the attack, as initially occurred after the attacks in August 2013.  The rebels reportedly have pictures and a video of suggesting the government attacked a village with chlorine gas.  The government reported on state-run Syrian television that a rebel group called Nusra Front is responsible for the chlorine gas attack.

Harm from chlorine gas varies with the victim’s type of exposure to the choking agent, which was used in World War I.  Chlorine is a chemical with both prohibited and non-prohibited uses under the CWC.  Theoretically, such chemicals must be declared to the OPCW because they are subject to OPCW monitoring.  The OPCW noted that Syria made declarations about production of chemicals for non-prohibited purposes, as required by the CWC.  The OPCW has yet to make a statement about whether Syria identified the production of chlorine in any declarations.

Public statements by Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., illustrate the problematic timing of these allegations.  When questioned about the new allegations, Ms. Power noted that the whole purpose of removing the chemical weapons from Syria was “to prevent further use.”  She refused to comment on U.S. reaction, but she casually mentioned “the credible threat of military force [is] on the table.”  After weeks of media reporting on the new attacks, the OPCW issued a press release on April 29, 2014, announcing the formation of a fact-finding team to investigate the new allegations.

The OPCW-U.N. team faces the possible breakdown of the disarmament plan.  The international reaction to these attacks must be carefully considered, to avoid undoing the progress made so far.  Interested observers should watch for statements from the OPCW, regarding their investigation into these attacks, and for any public statements from key players on the Security Council—primarily the U.S. and Russia—that could foreshadow U.N. action under Resolution 2118.  While there are options for military intervention, they will likely be unpopular in the war-weary U.S.  Moreover, eliminating a chemical like chlorine from an entire country seems impossible.  Chlorine poses a huge enforcement issue: can the OPCW rid Syria of a chemical used in homes throughout the world?  Probably not.  Despite the strengths of the CWC and the OPCW, the new attacks diminish the likelihood of complete chemical weapons disarmament in Syria.

 

Katharine York is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

 

[i] See Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons, opened for signature Jan. 13, 1993, S. Treaty Doc. No. 103-21, 1974 U.N.T.S. 45 [hereinafter CWC].

[ii] Ibrahim J. Gassama, The Incoherence and Functional Incompetence of International Law: Toward a New Paradigm of Human Relationship, 37 Fordham Int’l L.J. 53, 96-97.

[iii] See generally Human Rights Council, Oral Update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (2014) (describing torture and targeting of civilians by both the government and the rebels), available at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/OralUpdate18March2014.pdf.

[iv] Amnesty Int’l, Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers 4-6 (2011), available at http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/mde240592011en_22.pdf.

[v] G.A. Res. 42/37 C, U.N. Doc. A/RES/42/37 C (Nov. 30, 1987).

[vi] UNODA, Fact Sheet: United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic (2014), available at https://unoda-web.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/UN_Mission-Syria_Jan_2014.pdf.

[vii] CWC, supra note 1, Verification Annex, Part XI, para. 27.

[viii] UNODA, supra note 6.

[ix] S.C. Res. 2118, U.N. Doc. S/RES/2118 (Sept. 27, 2013), available at http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2118%282013%29.

[x] See the first blog post in this series for more information about the initial implementation of the CWC.

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soldiers blinded in WWI

The Chemical Weapons Convention: Preventative Measures Against Horror (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second blog post in a series of three blog posts discussing how the Chemical Weapons Convention prevents the use of chemical weapons through proactive measures by prohibiting both the use of and the preparation to use chemical weapons.  The first blog post described key features of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  This second blog post compares the Chemical Weapons Convention to other sources of international law that address chemical weapons.  The third and final blog post examines recent events in Syrian Arab Republic, as a case study, to illustrate the concepts discussed in the first and second blog posts.

 

Part II: International Law Addressing Chemical Weapons

This post analyzes the sources of international law—other than the Chemical Weapons Convention (“CWC”)—that address chemical weapons, and then explains how the CWC provides the strongest protections against chemical weapons.[1]  Both  customary international law and international treaty law provide clear prohibitions on using chemical weapons in international war, and under some interpretations, customary international law prohibits the use of chemical weapons in non-international war.  However, in contrast to the CWC, neither customary international law, nor international treaty law, address the production, stockpiling, or possession of chemical weapons.  First, this post examines the multilateral treaties addressing chemical weapons that predate the CWC.  Next, this post discusses customary international law about chemical weapons.  Finally, this post compares the CWC to the other sources of international law addressing chemical weapons.

 

A. Multilateral Treaties Addressing Chemical Weapons

chlorine attack in wwi

Aerial photograph of one of the first chlorine attacks on the Western Front in World War I (www.cbwinfo.com)

France and Germany reached the first international agreement on chemical warfare in 1675.[2]  Subsequently, on July 29, 1899, the Hague Declaration Concerning Asphyxiating Gases was created during the First Hague Peace Conference of 1899.  The Hague Declaration expressly prohibited the use of projectiles to disperse asphyxiating gases, but it only applied in instances of war between two or more signatories, which included thirty-two countries.  The second Hague Peace Conference, in 1907, expanded the prohibition on chemical weapons by forbidding all signatory countries from “employ[ing] poison or poisoned weapons.”  Unfortunately, despite these attempts to prevent chemical weapons use, major violations occurred during World War I.  Germany used multiple forms of chemical warfare to fight Allied forces.  Germany’s use of phosgene and chlorine gas during World War I changed the “lethality of chemical warfare forever.”[3]

The 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (the “Geneva Protocol”) prohibited “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices.”[4]  The Geneva Protocol developed during a conference, overseen by the League of Nations, in Geneva from 4 May to 17 June 1925.  The use of chemical weapons during World War I motivated the Geneva Protocol.  The Geneva Protocol restated the prohibitions in the Hague agreements and expanded the prohibition to all use of chemical weapons in international war.  The Geneva Protocol only applies to international war because the parties only “agree to be bound as between themselves”; thus, the prohibition only applies to war between two or more signatory states.[5]  Over the years, General Assembly of the United Nations (“U.N.”) adopted resolutions to show the continued legitimacy of the Geneva Convention,[6] and the Geneva Protocol continues to be a binding source of international law.  The early treaties used broad language that covered both chemical and biological weapons, but later treaties distinguished between the two.[7]  The Geneva Protocol was the strongest multilateral-international-treaty protection against chemical weapons until the adoption of the CWC in the 1990s.

 

B. Customary International Law Addressing Chemical Weapons

The International Court of Justice Statute treats customary international law as a binding source of international law.[8]  Customary international law, under most definitions, contains two elements: (1) state practice and (2) opinio jurisState practice exists if states consistently and uniformly conform to the same actions.  State practice “does not mean that the practice must be ‘universally followed;’ rather ‘it should reflect wide acceptance among the states particularly involved in the relevant activity.’”[9]  Opinio juris exists if states engage in the relevant state practice “because they believe it is required by international law, not merely because . . .  they think it is a good idea, or politically useful, or otherwise desirable.”[10]  Despite generally agreement about these basic definitions, customary international law “remains an enigma” because of disagreement about some particulars, such as how to identify it.  Establishing the existence or scope of customary international law is difficult because broad customs and practices create it, rather than from “any single, definitive, readily-identifiable source.”[11]

In order to identify and clarify customary international law, the International Committee for the Red Cross (“ICRC”) published a study in 2005 called Customary International Humanitarian Law, which identified 161 rules of customary international law.  Those rules are now available here, in the ICRC’s online database.  Despite criticism from the U.S. government about how the ICRC conducted the study, these rules provide some guidance about what constitutes customary international law.[12]  ICRC Rule 74 addresses the topic of chemical weapons.  According Rule 74, “[t]he use of chemical weapons is prohibited,” and according to Rule 74’s official summary, “State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.”

soldiers blinded in WWI

Soldiers blinded by gas lined up outside a first-aid post near Bethune, France during WWI (International Committee of the Red Cross)

While treaties are generally only binding on the parties to the treaty, treaty rules can become binding on non-parties “as a customary rule of international law.”[13]  Analysts disagree about when a widely adopted treaty becomes binding on third parties, but any U.N. resolution recognizing a treaty as binding on third parties is influential.  For example, in 1969, the U.N. adopted a resolution asserting that the widespread accession to the Geneva Protocol made the use of chemical weapons in international warfare contrary to customary international law.  Specifically, the U.N. resolution “Declares as contrary to the generally recognized rules of international law, as embodied in the [Geneva Protocol], the use in international armed conflicts” of chemical weapons.[14]  The ICRC cited to this U.N. resolution to support Rule 74 as a statement of existing customary international law.  Despite the general consensus that customary international law prohibits using chemical weapons in international wars, scholars disagree about whether Rule 74 accurately represents customary international law regarding the claimed prohibition on the use of chemical weapons in domestic armed conflict.[15]

Essential international organizations, such as the U.N., consider all use of chemical weapons a violation of international law.  The U.N. relies on both the Geneva Protocol and “other relevant rules of customary international law” to enable investigations of both domestic and international use of chemical weapons because the Geneva Protocol only applies to international war.  The U.N. is empowered to investigate allegations of the use chemical weapons by any U.N. member under the Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons.[16]  The enabling General Assembly Resolution refers to both the Geneva Protocol and “other relevant rules of customary international law,” which enables investigations into alleged use of chemical weapons by any U.N. member-state in international war or domestic war.  This framework provides an enforcement regime for the customary international law identified by the ICRC in Rule 74.  As described in the first post and illustrated in the third post of this series, the OPCW also lends its expertise to the U.N. if such an investigation occurs in a country that is not a CWC State Party.

 

C. Comparison of the CWC and Other Sources of International Law

Past treaties, including the Geneva Protocol, provide fewer protections than the CWC.  None of the early treaties addressed the production, stockpiling, and possession of chemical weapons, which are essential for preventing chemical weapons use.  Unlike the CWC, the “Geneva Protocol does not… prohibit the development, production or possession of chemical weapons”; instead, the Geneva Protocol only prohibits the use of chemical weapons in international war.  Similarly, the Geneva Protocol provides insufficient protection because compliance is voluntary, there is no mechanism to verify compliance, and it, “implicitly, does not cover internal or civil conflicts.”  This is not to disparage the protections of the Geneva Protocol; rather, this is to emphasize the innovations of the CWC relative to earlier protections.  The differences between the two treaties are understandable: Geneva Protocol takes up no more than two typed pages, while the official copy of the CWC is one-hundred eighty-one pages and took more than a decade to negotiate.  Without the earlier treaties—and their shortcomings—negotiators would have been less likely to develop the complex structure of the CWC.  Overall, the more detailed and comprehensive structure of the CWC provides better protections than previous chemical weapons treaties.  Similarly, existing customary international law does not provide the same protections as the CWC.  Irrespective of whether the prohibition on using chemical weapons applies in both international and non-international war, no one claims that customary international law prevents countries from stockpiling, producing, or transferring chemical weapons.[17]

 

D. Conclusion

In sum, using chemical weapons in international war violates international law, and under some interpretations, using chemical weapons in non-international war violates international law.  Thus, both international treaty law and customary international law  authorize the investigation and prosecution of actual use of chemical weapons.  However, these international investigations and prosecutions occur only after the damage is done and the victims are hurt.  And sometimes they do not happen at all.  By not addressing more than the use of chemical weapons, most sources of international law provide no preventative protections against the horrors of chemical weapons.

While no legal structure can be perfect, the CWC definitely provides better protections than any existing alternative.  The main advancement of the CWC is the ability to ensure that countries do not reach the point of use, by enabling intervention upon mere possession, development, or production of chemical weapons or their precursors.  The proactive CWC requires the destruction of existing chemical weapons stockpiles and prevents the transfer of those chemical weapons to others.  The CWC prevents the use of chemical weapons by eliminating access to chemical weapons.  Events in the Syrian Arab Republic illustrate the difference between the protections of the CWC and other sources of international law.  There, despite knowledge of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, the U.N. only stepped in to investigate after reports of actual chemical weapons use surfaced because Syria had not adopted the CWC.  The third and final blog post in this series analyzes those events in detail.

 

Katharine York is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

 

[1] For a detailed explanation of the CWC, see the first blog post in this three part series.

[2] Megan Eshbaugh, Note, The Chemical Weapons Convention: With Every Step Forward, We Take Two Steps Back, 18 Ariz. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 209, 216 (2001).

[3] James D. Fry, Gas Smells Awful: U.N. Forces, Riot-Control Agents, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, 31 Mich. J. Int’l L. 475, 481-82 (2010).

[4] Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, June 17, 1925, 26 U.S.T. 571, 94 L.N.T.S. 65.

[5] Id.

[6] See, e.g., Measures to Uphold the Authority of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, G.A. Res. 65/51, U.N. Doc. A/RES/65/51 (Dec. 8, 2010).

[7] Early treaties addressed chemical and biological weapons together, but international law has treated them separately, at least since the adoption of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.  Biological weapons are weaponized bacteria or viruses.  Chemical weapons are weaponized synthetic substances.  The first post of this series explains the difference between chemical weapons and biological weapons in more detail.

[8] Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 38(1)(b), June 26, 1945, 59 Stat. 1055, 1060, 33 U.N.T.S. 993.

[9] Buell v. Mitchell, 274 F.3d 337, 372 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law, § 102, cmt. b (1987)).

[10] Id.

[11] Flomo v. Firestone Nat. Rubber Co., LLC, 643 F.3d 1013, 1015 (7th Cir. 2011).

[12] See generally Noura Erakat, The U.S. v. the Red Cross: Customary International Humanitarian Law and Universal Jurisdiction, 41 Denv. J. Int’l L. & Pol’y 225, 227-29 (2013) (describing criticisms from the U.S. government about the methodological approach used by the ICRC during the study).

[13] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, May 23, 1969, art. 38, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, 8 I.L.M. 679.

[14] U.N. G.A. Res. 2603-A (16 December 1969) U.N. Doc A/RES/2603 (XXIV) A.

[15] Compare Carsten Stahn, Syria and the Semantics of Intervention, Aggression and Punishment: On ‘Red Lines’ and ‘Blurred Lines’, 11 J. Int’l Crim. Just. 955, 958 (2013) (relying on Rule 74 as accurate customary international law), with Jillian Blake & Aqsa Mahmud, A Legal ‘Red Line’?: Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons in Civil Conflict, 61 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 244, 255-56 (2013) (treating Rule 74 as inaccurate and arguing that customary international law only prohibits using chemical weapons in international conflicts).

[16] G.A. Res. 42/37, C, U.N. Doc. A/RES/42/37 C (Nov. 30, 1987).

[17] See Stutts v. De Dietrich Group, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47638, at *39 (E.D.N.Y. June 30, 2006) (noting absence of “prohibition on the development, manufacture and stockpiling of chemical weapons” from customary international law).

 

 

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emergency response training

The Chemical Weapons Convention: Preventative Measures Against Horror (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first blog post in a series of three blog posts discussing how the Chemical Weapons Convention prevents the use of chemical weapons through proactive measures by prohibiting both the use of and the preparation to use chemical weapons.  This first blog post describes key features of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  The second blog post compares the Chemical Weapons Convention to other sources of international law that address chemical weapons.  The third and final blog post examines recent events in Syrian Arab Republic, as a case study, to illustrate the concepts discussed in the first and second blog posts.

 

Part I: The Structure of the Chemical Weapons Convention

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction—more commonly known as the Chemical Weapons Convention (the “CWC”)[1]—provides the strongest protection against chemical weapons in international law.  The CWC attempts “to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons”[2] by destroying existing chemical weapons stockpiles and preventing production of new chemical weapons.  The CWC’s near-universal implementation and proactive enforcement structure provides the strongest protection in international law against the horrors of chemical weapons.  First, this post provides background on the CWC.  Second, it describes the international organization created by the CWC.  Third, it explains the CWC’s key provisions.  Finally, this post discusses the CWC’s enforcement and verification regime.

 

A. Background on the CWC

Early efforts at chemical weapons control provided deficient protections, and the CWC developed in response to that deficiency.[3]  The U.N. Conference on Disarmament adopted the final draft of the CWC on September 3, 1992, after twelve years of negotiation.  The CWC opened for signature on January 13, 1993, in Paris.  The CWC entered into force “180 days after the date of the deposit of the 65th instrument of ratification.”[4]  The sixty-fifth country—Hungary—ratified the convention in late 1996; after twenty-two countries ratified the CWC within 180 days of Hungary, the CWC entered into force on April 29, 1997 with eighty-seven State Parties.[5]  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the “OPCW”)—the international organization that administers the CWC—started functioning the same day the CWC entered into force.

opcw office

The OPCW office located in The Netherlands (AP)

The CWC faced early academic criticism.  For example, one early article concluded that the CWC “falls short because a significant number of nations with chemical warfare ability have not joined the treaty, these countries have little incentive to join in the near future, and the OPCW has limited powers to react to chemical attacks.”[6]  Nonetheless, the CWC and OPCW developed into formidable institutions.  Today, 190 countries have acceded to or ratified the CWC, leaving just six countries in the world that never acceded to or ratified the CWC.[7]  Additionally, after years of steady progress on the disarmament goals, the OPCW won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

The six countries refusing to ratify or accede to the CWC are Israel, Myanmar-Burma, Angola, Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan.  Each country’s refusal is troubling, but not necessarily surprising.  In terms of strategic international relations, ratifying the CWC and agreeing to its enforcement regime may not be rational for a state actor because a country that might have chemical weapons may be able to deter attack by enemies, based in part on that uncertainty.[8]  In the words of Sun Tzu: “All warfare is based on deception.”[9]  North Korea’s Kim-family dictators appear to act erratically, but calculatedly, to deter intervention in North Korea.  South Sudan is a war-torn country that is less than three years old.  Israel probably refuses to ratify the CWC to enhance its bargaining position in a region of enemies, particularly since continued non-recognition of the Palestinian state prevents a parallel ratification of the CWC by Palestine.  Some countries on this list probably do not possess chemical weapons, but others almost certainly do.  For example, in Burma-Myanmar, the current regime recently jailed reporters for “disclosing state secrets” by publicizing the government’s current, operating, chemical weapons factories.  Overall, the most striking thing about the list is that the list only contains six countries.  While the OPCW continues to work towards universality of membership, the CWC already applies in full force to 98% of the world.

 

B. The OPCW: The International Organization Created by the CWC

The OPCW oversees State Parties and redresses violations to supervise CWC compliance.  The OPCW conducted “more than 5,000 inspections in 86 countries” over its seventeen years of existence.  The OPCW monitored ninety-six declared chemical weapons facilities, overseeing the destruction of forty-three and conversion of twenty-two to peaceful purposes.  Some cite this behind the scenes work as the reason the OPCW won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013—though the OPCW’s work in the Syrian Arab Republic that year certainly helped.

Article VIII created the OPCW, established the OPCW’s headquarters in the Hague, and divided the OPCW’s responsibilities among three organs.[10]  The first organ, the Conference of the States Parties (the “Conference”), consists of all OPCW members.[11]  The Conference oversees CWC compliance, oversees other parts of the OPCW, and redresses violations of the CWC.[12]  The second organ, the Executive Council consists of forty-one rotating members, elected for two-year terms and selected to ensure representation of each geographic region.[13]  One of the Executive Council’s responsibilities is to provide recommendations to the Conference about what measures to take in the event of non-compliance with the CWC by a State Party.[14]  The final organ, the Technical Secretariat, provides administrative and technical support to other parts of the OPCW, and carries out the verification measures described in the CWC, including on-the-ground investigations.[15]

 

C. Key Provisions of the CWC

Three subparagraphs of the CWC define of chemical weapons.  The first subparagraph covers toxic chemicals and their precursors; toxic chemical means “[a]ny chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals.”[16]  The Chemicals Annex lists the prohibited chemicals and their precursors.  The second subparagraph covers “[m]unitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals” identified in the first part of the definition.[17]  The third part covers equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with the employment of munitions and devices” identified in part two.[18]  The CWC prohibitions rely on this three-part definition of chemical weapons.  The CWC and the OPCW classify chemical weapons by their “mode of action” on victims, meaning how the chemical enters and affects the body.  Categories of chemical weapons include choking agents, blister agents, blood agents, and nerve agents.

Chemical weapons are distinguishable from biological weapons.  Chemical weapons are generally man-made chemicals, while biological weapons are weaponized versions of naturally occurring bacteria and viruses.  The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (“BWC”) prohibits the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons.  The broad chemical weapons definition in the CWC could be interpreted to include some biological weapons, where the “possible use is similar” for biological agents and chemical agents.  Thus, the CWC states that nothing in the CWC “shall be interpreted as in any way limiting or detracting from the obligations assumed by any State under” the BWC.[19]  The protections of the CWC and BWC complement each other, but the two treaties address different types of weapons.

State Parties only give up the rights the CWC expressly prohibits.[20]  Thus, the CWC contains excruciating detail to protect against chemical weapons.  This produced what one author described as “the most complex disarmament and nonproliferation treaty in history.”[21]  As a starting point, Article I identifies the general obligations of State Parties under the CWC:

1. Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances:

(a) To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;

(b) To use chemical weapons;

(c) To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;

(d) To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.

2. Each State Party undertakes to destroy chemical weapons it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

3. Each State Party undertakes to destroy all chemical weapons it abandoned on the territory of another State Party, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

4. Each State Party undertakes to destroy any chemical weapons production facilities it owns or possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

5. Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.[22]

Article I prohibits the most troubling aspects of chemical weapons.  Paragraph 1 prohibits State Parties from using, producing, or stockpiling chemical weapons; it prohibits all preparations to use chemical weapons and prohibits facilitating any third party—including non-state terrorist actors—to prepare to use chemical weapons.  Paragraphs 2-4 ensure the destruction of existing chemical weapons and existing production facilities.  Paragraph 5 expressly prohibits the use of riot control agents in warfare, which clarifies that the permitted for use for domestic law enforcement purposes—under Article VI—does not lead to use of chemical agents in warfare.  Moreover, Article XXII expressly prohibits any State Party from making any reservation to the CWC’s terms.[23]  Thus, all State Parties agree to the exact same limitations, including agreement never to retaliate with chemical weapons.

After a country ratifies or accedes to the CWC, the country must secure compliance by public and private actors within the country.  For example, the provisions addressing chemical weapons production facilities “shall apply to any and all chemical weapons production facilities owned or possessed by a State Party, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control.”[24]  This enables the OPCW to oversee the destruction or conversion to peaceful use of both privately and publicly held chemical weapons factories, which includes both chemical factories and munitions factories under the CWC definition of chemical weapons.  State Parties must enact penal legislation to criminalize actions prohibited by the CWC, which ensures the accountability of private actors.[25]  The OPCW website provides suggestions for how State Parties should implement the CWC through domestic legislation and regulations.

The broad definition of chemical weapons in Article II specifically excludes chemicals that are used for a “purpose not prohibited” by the CWC, as long as the type and quantity is consistent with such purpose.[26]  The list of purposes not prohibited by CWC recognizes that some chemicals used in chemical weapons also have legitimate, economically beneficial purposes.[27]  When a State Party wishes to use an otherwise prohibited chemical for any of these non-prohibited purposes, the State Party must submit to verification measures overseen by the OPCW, as described in the next section.

libya chemical weapon destruction facility

Members of the OPCW visit a chemical weapons destruction facility in Libya in Feb. 2014 (OPCW/Flickr)

The most controversial use allowed by the CWC is the exception for the purpose of “Law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes.”[28]  The ICRC criticizes the use of any toxic chemicals for law enforcement purposes, mainly out of slippery-slope concerns about undoing the progress towards chemical weapons disarmament in international law.[29]  The ICRC vice-president expressed concern about any potential use of toxic chemicals by law enforcement in this video.  Others express concerns about the ambiguous scope of the phrase “law enforcement.”[30]  The language of this exception could have been more clearly limited to cover a narrow list of chemical agents—such as pepper spray—to guarantee uniform compliance.  State Parties must declare the possession of chemicals useable as riot control agents to the OPCW, as with possession of any chemical listed in the Chemicals Annex, but they are not required to report when or how riot control agents are used.[31]  However, if the OPCW becomes concerned about how a State Party interprets this provision, Article XIV addresses conflicts of interpretation between a State Party and the OPCW, and Article XV describes procedures for amending the CWC.[32]

 

D. Verifications, Inspections, and CWC Enforcement

The CWC’s enforcement and verification system monitors disarmament, monitors chemical industries, and undertakes through short-notice inspections.  As described by the ICRC, one “major innovation of the CWC is its intrusive verification regime.”  That regime defines the roles of the State Party and the OPCW before, during, and after the initial implementation of the CWC.  The process starts with State Parties submitting initial declarations to the OPCW, including a detailed inventory and a plan for the destruction of all existing chemical weapons stockpiles and chemical weapons production facilities.[33]  Creating and implementing the destruction plans can be challenging, especially due to the environmental problems inherent in destroying chemical weapons.[34]  Nonetheless, the Verification Annex provides instructions: it outlines the order of destruction for chemical weapons and describes the on-site inspections used throughout the destruction process.[35]

After the initial implementation of the CWC, State Parties must submit to OPCW monitoring whenever a they wished to use otherwise prohibited chemicals for a non-prohibited purpose.  The Annex on Chemicals divides chemicals into three schedules, and verification measures under the Verification Annex vary based on the chemical’s location in the three schedules.[36]  This structure allows the OPCW to certify a State Party’s compliance by monitoring production of chemicals that could become or be used as chemical weapons, even when the intended use of the chemical is not prohibited by the CWC.[37]

State Parties may call on the OPCW to investigate any concerns about another State Party’s compliance with the CWC through a “challenge inspection.”[38]  The challenging State Party submits a request to the Executive Council of the OPCW, and unless concerns about the validity of the request stop the process, preparations for an inspection will begin.[39]  The CWC requires that State Party submit to challenge inspection by the Technical Secretariat, under an accelerated timeline: the inspected party may receive as little as twelve-hours of notice of the inspection team’s arrival.[40]  The challenge inspection contains different procedures for claims the State Party actually used chemical weapons and for claims of other violations.[41]  However, the timeline for responding to a challenge inspection remains the same for all alleged violations; this indicates that the CWC treats production and stockpiling of chemical weapons very seriously.

emergency response training

The OPCW conducts a training course on emergency response to chemical incidents for Asian State parties (OPCW/Flickr)

First, the Executive Council reviews the inspection team’s final report; then, if the report reveals non-compliance with the CWC, it makes recommendations for action to the Conference.[42]  Article XII’s four relatively short and relatively broad paragraphs describe the measures for redressing noncompliance.[43]  By not specifying how to redress specific violations, the CWC enables the Executive Council and the Conference to be creative and to respond with anything from sanctions to aggression.  The OPCW must notify the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Security Council of “cases of particular gravity.”[44]  To some extent, this envisions the two international organizations working together.  The OPCW and the U.N. do work together sometimes.  For example, where allegations of chemical weapons use arise in connection with a non-State-Party and the U.N. asks for help, the CWC commands the OPCW “to put its resources at the disposal of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.”[45]  This ensures that the OPCW’s expertise will be available when it may be most vital.

However, nothing in Article XII prevents the Conference from taking collective action more quickly than the U.N. Security Council.  Instead, “where serious damage to the object and purpose of [the CWC] may result from activities prohibited under [the CWC], in particular by Article I, the Conference may recommend collective measures to States Parties in conformity with international law.”[46]  Perhaps the possibility that the U.N. would refuse to act in the face of a situation serious enough to inspire independent action by the Conference is sufficiently unlikely that this will never be an issue.  The U.N. Charter provides the Security Council with “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.”  Nonetheless, the option for independent collective action by the Conference could be a helpful alternative to the Security Council veto, in a hypothetical situation involving the use of chemical weapons alongside regional conflicts of interest.

 

E. Conclusion

The best features of the CWC are the abilities of the OPCW: to interfere in a country’s chemical industry; to oversee both chemical weapons and precursor chemicals; to investigate actions of private and public actors; to monitor the destruction of chemical weapons; to guarantee the destruction, rather than the transfer, of chemical weapons.  Overall, the OPCW prevents the use of chemical weapons by removing them from international commerce and from State Parties.  Sure, the CWC theoretically could be better, but everything could be better: perfection in international law, as in life, is a goal rather than a reality.  But the strengths of the CWC cannot be overemphasized.  As will be shown in the next blog post in this series, the CWC provides exponentially more powerful protection against chemical weapons than other sources of international law.  To show how this system looks in practice, the third and final blog post discusses events before and after the Syrian Arab Republic ratified the CWC in 2013.

 

Katharine York is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

 

[1] Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons, opened for signature Jan. 13, 1993, S. Treaty Doc. No. 103-21, 1974 U.N.T.S. 45 [hereinafter CWC].

[2] Id. at pmbl.

[3] For more information about other sources of international law addressing chemical weapons, see the second post in this three part series.

[4] CWC supra note 1, at art. XXI.

[5] The CWC refers to countries that have ratified or acceded to the CWC as “State Parties.”

[6] Kevin J. Fitzgerald, The Chemical Weapons Convention: Inadequate Protection from Chemical Warfare, 20 Suffolk Transnat’l L. Rev. 425, 447 (1997).

[7] Countries that were not signatories of the CWC before the CWC entered into force cannot ratify the CWC; however, any country may accede to the CWC.  CWC, supra note 1, at arts. XIX-XX.

[8] See Thomas Schelling, Strategy of Conflict 3-80, 119-61 (1980 ed.) (explaining that the ability to communicate strength—either overtly or tacitly—is essential for deterrence).

[9] Sun Tzu, The Art of War 9 (Dallas Galvin ed., Lionel Giles trans., 2003 Barnes & Noble Classics) (1910).

[10] CWC, supra note 1, art. VIII, para. 1, 3, and 4.

[11] Id. at art. VIII, para. 9.

[12] Id. at arts. VIII, para. 20, XII, para. 1.

[13] Id. at art. VIII, para. 23.

[14] Id. at art. VIII, paras. 35-36.

[15] Id. at art. VIII, para. 38.

[16] Id. at art. II, para. 1-3.

[17] Id. at art. II, para. 1.

[18] Id.

[19] Id. at art. XIII.

[20] Id. at art. VI, para. 1 (“Each State Party has the right, subject to the provisions of this Convention, to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, retain, transfer and use toxic chemicals and their precursors for purposes not prohibited under this Convention.”) (emphasis added).

[21] Urs A. Cipolat, The New Chemical Weapons Convention and Export Controls: Towards Greater Multilateralism?, 21 Mich. J. Int’l L. 393, 394 (2000).

[22] CWC, supra note 1, at art. I, para 1.

[23] Id. at art. XXII.

[24] Id. at art. V, para. 1.

[25] Id. at art. VII, para. 1.

[26] Id. at art. II, paras. 1-4.

[27] Id. at art. II, para. 9 (“‘Purposes Not Prohibited Under this Convention’ means: (a) Industrial, agricultural, research, medical, pharmaceutical or other peaceful purposes; (b) Protective purposes, namely those purposes directly related to protection against toxic chemicals and to protection against chemical weapons; (c) Military purposes not connected with the use of chemical weapons and not dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare; (d) Law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes.”).

[28] Id.

[29] For more information about the ICRC’s contributions to the discussion of customary international law on chemical weapons, see the second post (upcoming) in this three part series.

[30] Benjamin Kastan, Note, The Chemical Weapons Convention and Riot Control Agents: Advantages of a “Methods” Approach to Arms Control, 22 Duke J. Comp. & Int’l L. 267, 271-72 (2012).

[31] James D. Fry, Gas Smells Awful: U.N. Forces, Riot-Control Agents, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, 31 Mich. J. Int’l L. 475, 485 (2010).

[32] CWC, supra note 1, at arts. XIV, para. 2, art. XV.

[33] Id. at art. III and Verification Annex.

[34] See generally David A. Koplow, How Do We Get Rid Of These Things?: Dismantling Excess Weapons While Protecting The Environment, 89 Nw. U.L. Rev. 445 (describing the environmental issues related to destroying chemical weapons and chemical weapons production facilities).

[35] CWC, supra note 1, Verification Annex, Part. IV(A), para. 15 and 37.

[36] Id. at art. VI, Annex on Chemicals.

[37] Id. at Verification Annex.

[38] Id. at art. IX, paras. 8-25.

[39] Id. at art. IX, para. 17.

[40] Id. at art. IX, para. 15.

[41] Id. at art. IX, para. 19.

[42] Id. at arts. IX, paras. 22-25, art. XII, para. 1.

[43] Id. at art. XII.

[44] Id. at art. XII, para 4.

[45] Id. at Verification Annex, Part XI, para. 27.

[46] Id. at art. XII, para 3.

 

 

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Critical Analysis: Nobel Committee has a Strange View of “Peace”

On October 11, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a little-known watchdog organization based in The Hague, which has just begun work on dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The announcement was greeted with surprise and some disappointment; the Prize had been widely expected to go to Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani education activist who famously survived a Taliban assassination attempt. But the selection of OPCW is more concerning for other reasons – namely, it is effectively an endorsement of the international community’s gross inaction in response to Syria’s ongoing war, and follows a series of controversial decisions by the committee entrusted with what is supposed to be one of the world’s most prestigious awards.

The political influences of the Norwegian Parliament may be directing the recent choices by the Nobel Committee Peace Prize recipients. Source: PBS

The political influences of the Norwegian Parliament may be directing the recent choices by the Nobel Committee for Peace Prize recipients. Source: PBS

For all of its connotation as an august institution of elder statesmanship, the Peace Prize is not awarded by experts or experienced peacemakers but by politicians. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is a five-member body elected by the Norwegian Parliament, and its makeup usually reflects the political makeup of the Parliament. And in recent years, the Committee seems to be employing bizarre political judgments in its choice of prize recipients.

The 2009 award to President Barack Obama, less than a year after he took office, seemed oddly premature. Even Obama himself appeared perplexed by it. The 2012 choice of the European Union, in the midst of its profound mismanagement of the ongoing economic crises, came off to most observers as a bad joke. But the choice of OPCW risks not merely tarnishing the Prize’s prestige, but undermining the very causes of peace and human dignity it is meant to stand for.

OPCW was created in 1997 to oversee the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the use of chemical weapons and requires the dismantling of all stockpiles. The Nobel Committee cited the group’s “long-standing efforts to eliminate chemical weapons” worldwide, which have succeeded in dismantling 80% of declared stockpiles. This record might, in an ordinary year, put OPCW in worthy contention for the Peace Prize, which has often been awarded to disarmament organizations in the past. But the timing, in conjunction with the group’s work in Syria, was unmistakable. And the message it sends has tellingly provoked outrage among Syrians opposed to the murderous Assad regime.

The chances for success of OPCW’s mission in Syria are limited. And whatever its outcome, that mission is most certainly not bringing peace to Syria. The Russian-sponsored deal for Syria to dismantle its chemical arsenal contributes nothing to getting the Assad regime out of power or reaching any kind of settlement to end the conflict, nor was it meant to. It was fundamentally an effort by Assad’s Russian accomplices to lift the threat of American military action against the regime after it killed over 1,000 in August’s sarin gas attack in Damascus. And it succeeded in doing so, leaving Assad free to continue massacring Syrians with conventional weapons without fear of consequences. This is the deal that the Nobel Committee has now effectively granted its seal of approval. What kind of peace does the Committee think it is promoting? As usual, the Syrian town of Kafranbel, known for its poignant revolutionary artwork, makes the point clearest.

 

Scott Petiya is a 3LE law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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