On 26-27 June 2018, 152 States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) met in special session to address the pressing issue of upholding the global ban on the use of chemical weapons. In a previous statement on 30 November 2017, I updated the House on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—UN Joint Investigative Mechanism [HCWS291]. The Prime Minister has briefed the House on various occasions following the use of a nerve agent in Salisbury in March this year [12 March 2018, Volume 637 and 14 March 2018, Volume 637] and the chemical weapons attack in Douma in April [Debate on 16 April 2018, Volume 639].
This special session of the Conference of States Parties was the first such meeting convened at a State Party’s request since 2002. The UK alongside a number of international partners called this meeting to provide an opportunity for the international community to address the use of chemical weapons in Malaysia, Syria, Iraq (by Daesh) and the UK.
The UK proposed a draft decision, co-sponsored by 30 States Parties entitled “Addressing the threat from chemical weapons use”. The aim was to bring together the 193 members who have signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention to reaffirm their support for the Convention and for the OPCW, and to secure effective action to protect the global norm against CW use. We consulted widely with international partners on the draft of the decision, building broad support across all geographic regions.
Opposition from a few States meant, as we had anticipated, that consensus was not possible. But proposed amendments from Kazakhstan, Belarus, Bolivia, Iran and Burundi were defeated by substantial margins, leading to Russia, China and Burundi withdrawing alternative texts that sought to paralyse the work of the OPCW.
Most importantly, the decision we secured empowers the OPCW to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, both past and if needed, in the future. The crucial gap left by the ending of the mandate of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigation Mechanism last November, due to a series of Russian vetoes in the UN Security Council, has been filled. The decision also mandates the director general of the OPCW to make proposals at the next meeting of the Conference of States Parties in November to establish independent, impartial expert arrangements to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons, if requested by any State Party which is investigating possible chemical weapons use on its territory.
The decision covers a range of related issues. It officially recognises the findings of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism in 2016 and 2017, confirming four chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian regime between 2014 and 2017 including significantly the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, and the use of chemical weapons by Daesh on two occasions in 2015 and 2016. It authorises the sharing of information gathered by the OPCW with the Independent Impartial and Independent Mechanism set up by the UN General Assembly under resolution 71/248 (2016) and other relevant investigatory entities established under UN auspices. And it provides for additional action by the OPCW to provide further assistance to the States to help prevent the threat posed by non-state actors.
The UK-drafted decision, adopted by 82 votes to 24 at a meeting attended by 152 (the largest number of States ever to have attended a Conference of States Parties) sends a clear message that the international community has not been deceived by the diplomatic manoeuvring of recent months and concluded that action must be taken to protect the Convention, and prevent impunity for chemical weapons use.
The Convention is a key element of the international disarmament and arms control system. This welcome outcome was the product of determined diplomacy over many years, and a particular effort in the weeks prior to the Conference. The achievement is all the more notable in light of the deadlock in the UN Security Council where all attempts to continue, or revive international investigations into responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria were vetoed over the last year.
The UK is proud to have led the diplomatic efforts to secure this outcome. We look forward to working with all members of the Chemical Weapons Convention to implement the decision. The UK will continue to work with States around the world to support progress towards universal and effective national implementation of the Convention and uphold the ban on chemical weapons development, production, stockpiling and use. The UK will contribute an additional £1 million to the work of the OPCW in order to assist the implementation of the decision and the OPCW’s work with States to uphold non-proliferation and disarmament.