top of page

Blog Page

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

Author: Kaushik Das

National Law University Odisha


With the ongoing conflict in the middle-eastern regions, with prime focus on the Syrian state, the country and the developments there have often been in the news. The country was alleged to have in their possession a stockpile of chemical weapons, which have been banned as per the Chemical Weapons Convention, to prevent the use of these kinds of harmful weapon systems which inflict unnecessary loss of life and long-term health problems and challenges, including pollution of water sources. At pressure from the international governments arose, the Syrian Government being backed into a corner, and with evidence growing against them, admitted to the possession of the Chemical weapons which it was alleged to have used. After the statement by the Syrian Foreign Ministry on the 23rd of July 2012, Jihad Makdissi confirmed that the weapons were in the possession of the government but were not used on the “Syrian People” and that these were present to deal with “External Aggression”. The U.S. took grave cognizance of the matter, and state department officials concluded that the Syrian government had in their possession chemical weapons like Mustard Gas and Nerve Agent. With growing international scrutiny, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the 21st of March 2013, reiterated that they would start an investigation in conjunction with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the OPCW. After blocking this initiative initially, the UN could finally send a team just to investigate the use of Chemical Weapons rather than the persons using it, in around August of 2013. After the decision by the OPCW Executive as well as the UNSC council of destruction of chemical weapons stockpile, the OPCW team visited the country for the destruction process on October of 2013. Only recently on the 8th of April 2020, the First Report was released, of the actions of the OPCW in the country of Syria. The author, herein analyses the Report, the ambit of the OPCW amongst other factors.

The Syrian Case: First Report of the IIT

On the 8th of April 2020, the First Report of the investigation team was published by the OPCW. It had much important information pertaining to the mission in Syria, in response to the investigation of the alleged use of chemical weapons in the state. The Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat had established the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which was pursuant to the Decision of the Conference of the State Parties, which was title as “Addressing the Threat from Chemical Weapons Use”. In the month of June 2019, the IIT began its work on certain incidents where the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) had previously determined that there was the likely use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, which had, in turn, prompted a response from the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism which was not able to reach a final conclusion. The first report focused primarily on setting forth the mandate, legal and practical challenging and to report on the findings of the IIT for the investigations conducted between the period of June 2019 and March 2020, which focused primarily in the incidents in the Ltamenah, in the Syrian Arab Republic, with due incidents occurring on the 24th, 25th and the 30tgh of March 2017. For the purposes, it can be said that the IIT is not a judicial body, and it doesn’t have any ability to prosecute or attach criminal responsibility to any individual. The IIT has the authority to make final findings of the non-compliance with the convention, and thereby it is restricted to the establishment of the facts.

The following findings were made by the team:

  1. · On the 24th of March 2017, there was the dropping of an M4000 Aerial bomb by a Su-22 military plane at 6:00 hours, which contained Sarin in the Southern Ltamenah, which affected at least 16 people.

  2. · On the 25th of March 2017 a cylinder was dropped from a Syrian Arab Air Force helicopter from the Hama base, which contained chlorine on the roof of the Ltamenah hospital. The cylinder broke into the hospital, and on its rupture, it released chlorine affecting at least 30 persons.

  3. · On the 30th of March 2017, a Su-22 Military place of the 50th Brigade of the 22nd Air Division of the Syrian Arab Air Force, departing from Shayrat airbase. Dropped an M4000 Aerial bomb, which contained Sarin, in the southern Ltamenah, which affected at least 60 persons.

The report concluded that such actions could only be taken by Military operations of a strategic nature, related to information and decisions from the highest commands of the Syrian Arab Armed Forces.

In the further portions of the reports, the IIT discusses the lack of information and the lack of discussion between the team and the armed forces as well. In turn, the ambit and work of the OPCW would continue, and the report would be published, wherein pursuant to the UNSC resolution and further discussions. In the further sections, we will discuss the different provisions and relations, of the OPCW, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and more.

A soldier douses fires, post bombings in the ongoing Syrian Conflict.

What is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)?

The OPCW is an international organization which is tasked with the implementation and purveyance of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The common goal of the OPCW member states if to prevent the use of chemistry to create weapons that can be used in warfare for ill gain. For the continuation of the same the OPCW provides facilities for the verification and destruction of chemical weapons to prevent their re-emergence and use, as seen in the 2nd World War to protect legitimate national security and proprietary interests, and stop the horrifying use and effects of Chemical Weapons.

There are two fundamental approaches taken by the OPCW, firstly, it relies on the multilateral character of the convention, and secondly, it moves for the equal application of the provisions of the Convention to all States Parties.

The OPCW finally aims to achieve a world which is completely free of chemical weapons and promote complete disarmament of these types of weapons while ensuring the global economic development and international security and stability.

In the year of 2013, recognizing its significance and efforts, the OPCW, received the Nobel Prize for Peace as well, for ‘its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons’.

The Logo of OPCW

What is the Chemical Weapons Convention?

On the 29th of April 1997 history was made, when the Chemical Weapons Convention first came into the picture. It was an agreement to promote the world’s first multilateral disarmament program, to eliminate a category of weapons of mass destruction within the fixed time period. These were the cumulative results of the Conference on Disarmament and Preparatory Commission, which led to also, the formation of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Currently, there are 193 states who are parties to the convention, 1 state which is a signatory and 3 states who are non-signatories. The total budget for the organization in the year 2020 stands at approximately, €70,958,760. 98 percent of the global population live under the ambit and protection of the chemical weapons convention and the 97percent of the chemical weapons stockpile’s which were declared by the possessor states have been destroyed.

Discussions in the Chemical Weapons Convention.

What does the OPCW do?

“A Chemical Weapon is a chemical used to cause intentional death or harm through its toxic properties.” There are various categories of chemical weapons which are identified by the convention which are for the intentional commission of harm to individuals through their use. These kinds of weapons are the ones which are banned by the convention. The OPCW and its member states have committed to the elimination of chemical weapons stockpiles, under the verification regime/mechanisms of the OPCW. A state party, first declares the possession of the chemical weapons, secondly the state party can utilize technologies to destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles, which is to be done in an irreversible way. The safety of the parties and people during the implementation as well as the due concern of the environment and their protection is also mandated under the convention. The OPCW maintains, destruction timelines and also provides for the verification of the destruction of the stockpiles.

After its primary foal of the elimination of chemical weapons, the OPCW, has the mandate of organizing other actions as well.

For the prevention of the re-emergence of chemical weapons, the OPCW has its verification procedure. The OPCW also mandates the control of international transfers of chemicals. It holds inspections and challenge inspections to deal with the concerns or probability of re-emergence.

In today's world, there is also a constant threat in relation to the Terrorism as well. This has been recognized by the member states as being of grave concern, and the member states are mandated to ensure provisions to seclude the terrorist elements to contain and acquire chemical weapons for their agendas.

The OPCW and convention also hold legal accountability methods as well to ensure that terrorists utilizing chemical weapons will be held legally liable and there will be mechanisms to try the persons involved.

In a different approach, the OPCW also promotes the engagement of the persons of member states, to increase awareness and education about the harm of chemical weapons and about the organization’s ethos, work, and scientific importance of prevention of chemical weapons.

The OPCW also promotes the Hague Ethical Guidelines, to ensure an ethos of science for peace. This involves the promotion of responsibility in science to protect from the development of chemical weapons, and also provides a guideline’s by chemical practitioners from around the world to conform to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

View of the OPCW Heahquarters in Hague.

Areas where the OPCW has worked

The OPCW has conducted its activities rigorously on various fronts. It includes the relation to the Stockpile destruction as present in many countries. Currently, the OPCW reports that the world’s chemical weapons stockpiles which have been destroyed stands at 97.51% and the total destroyed stockpiles of chemical agents destroyed amasses to 72,304 metric tonnes. The total destroyed stockpiles of chemical agents stand at 70,545 metric tonnes. All figures calibrated to the 31st of December 2019.

In terms of the Chemical Weapons Production Facilities (CWWF), the OPCW has declared the presence of 97 facilities and has seen the destruction of 74 such properties and conversion of 23 facilities for use in peaceful purposes. It also reports the presence of 10 sites, where inspection is required, and the states with such facilities stand at 5. The inspections of Chemical Weapons Destruction Facilities (CWDF) since the EIF are 1,923 and the states with facilities for inspection are only 1, with 2 inspectable sites remaining. In terms of the Chemical Weapons Storage Facilities (CWSF), there have been 513 inspections since EIF, and the states with the facilities stand at 1 with 2 sites for inspection remaining. There have been 156 inspections of Old Chemical Weapons (OCW) since EIF. With 6 states having such facilities remaining, and the total number of sites remaining at 6. In the case of Abandoned Chemical Weapons (ACW), 148 inspections have been done since EIF, with 1 state with facilities remaining and 24 inspectable sites.

The OPCW also carries out industry verification with 4856 facilities subject to inspection. For the purposes of conduction verification, there are 18 states with designated environmental laboratories and 12 with biomedical laboratories. The OPCW itself designates 22 environmental and 17 biomedical laboratories.

The OPCW since its inception has worked in diverse areas, and with lots of efforts, into the mandate of the Chemical Weapons Convention, seeking to destroy and eliminate the scrooge of chemical weapons, with Syria being one of the more recent examples.

The front view of the OPCW Headquarters in Hague.

Critical analysis

The challenges with the use of the Chemical Weapons are varied and definitively inciteful towards unending pain to the ones they are inflicted on. It was essential seeing the aftermath of the use of Chemical Weapons in the various wars, to stop the further propagation and promotion of the use of these elements, which essential ruin the concept of humanism. In response, the Chemical Weapons Convention was formulated with the member states vowing to destroy their chemical weapons stockpile. Though, this also led to the formation of the OPCW, to implement the same. There are though essentially a lot of gaps in the policy and implementation. The OPCW, has to have the mandate of the state or the backing of international organisations for the continuation of their mandate, which essentially, creates challenges of implementation. The OPCW can only work on actionable intelligence, and if states possess hidden stockpiles, it essentially is rendered powerless, in finding, reporting, and working to remove these facilities and capacities from the state. The destruction process is also carried out by states, with only the verification to be done by the international body of OPCW, this can also lead to states falsifying data. A lot of the work, done, is in the aftermath of events occurring, which again creates a lacuna. It is important that the objectives, which the organization sseeks to achieve is allowed and fulfilled, but a lot needs to be done in the international forum, and developments between and within member states. The future is what will speak of the actual elimination of all forms of chemical weapons.


The OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention are an essential measure to prevent the inhuman use of Chemical Weapons in war. Yet, in its ambit, the operations of the OPCW have led to many benefits for the international community and has acted as a decisive step towards eradication of chemical weapons, yet a lot more needs to be done. With the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the findings of the IIT, it can be seen that the threat still exists and solutions are still required. The objections of the convention and OPCW are essential, so is the cooperation and adherence by the member states. The same can be seen only as time progresses. The developments in Syria continue to progress, and further analysis of the situation and subsequent steps and procedures are required. Tough sanctions and international regard for the situation is required and hopefully prevalent.


Disclaimer: All rights to the intellectual property of the contents of this blog and content appearing on it from other platforms, belong to their respective owners and to no regard, is the same infringed upon this publication. All rights hence stand reserved with the respective owners, and any reproduction of the same is in violation of their intellectual property rights.

The blog also does not endorse opinions, viewpoints, comments, or quotations appearing from parties interviewed, spoken to, or quoted as its own. Therein, any liability to be associated with such publications is not accrued to the author of the blog, but rather to the respective parties whose, opinions, views, or comments, are published and are respectively mentioned in the blog to be of the party so speaking it.

20 views0 comments