France hosts launch of “International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons”On 23 January 2018 the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs hosted the launch of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. Its creation reflects a determination that individuals and groups in the Syrian Government be held legally accountable for the use of such weapons. Participants also hope that such accountability will deter possible further use of such weapons. The same day France imposed sanctions on individuals and companies for having links to Syrian chemical weapons activities.BackgroundSyria joined the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in September 2013 in the midst of competing and contradictory chemical weapons use allegations. The allegations—some confirmed—have persisted into 2018. The mandate of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in Syria expired in November 2017 as a consequence of political disputes in the UN Security Council and the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The OPCW Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) and Fact-finding Mission (FFM) continue their work. The DAT evaluates the completeness and correctness of Syria’s declarations to the OPCW. The FFM collects and evaluates information on allegations of CW use.The Syria CWC declarations file is managed by a Steering Committee comprising representatives of the OPCW, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and Syria. With respect to Syria’s declarations, the OPCW seeks further clarity on: (a) the role of the Syria Scientific Research Centre (SSRC) in the country’s chemical weapon programme, (b) the results of analyses of samples taken by OPCW at multiple locations in Syria which suggest that additional chemicals should have been declared, (c) the nature of “other chemical weapons-related activities” that occurred prior to Syria’s accession to the CWC in 2013. The OPCW also seeks to: (a) reach closure on the allegations of chemical weapon use (via the FFM), (b) verify the destruction of two above-ground facilities (chemical weapon production facilities, CWPFs—both of which were inspected by the OPCW for the first time in late 2017 due to an improved security situation), and (c) conduct routine annual CWC-mandated inspections of underground structures already destroyed.
The French Foreign Ministry informally briefed invited members of civil society in the morning, while the formal launch was held in the afternoon at the Ministerial level which was attended by approximately nearly 30 state representatives. That afternoon France activated the initiative’s website and published a Declaration of Principles.
US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson criticized Russia for having not lived up to its obligations as a guarantor of Syria’ implementation of its CWC obligations and warned “This initiative puts those who ordered and carried out chemical weapons attack on notice. You will face a day of reckoning for your crimes against humanity and your victims will see justice done’.
Participants of the initiative undertake, consistent with international law and respective national laws, regulations and policies to:
1.) Collect, compile, retain, and preserve relevant information to support efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the proliferation or use of chemical weapons;
2.) Facilitate the sharing of such information with participating States, and international, or regional organisation as appropriate, so that those responsible may be brought to justice;
3.) Use relevant mechanisms to designate individuals, entities, groups and governments involved in the proliferation of chemical weapons for sanctions, as appropriate;
4.) Publicize the names of individuals, entities, groups or governments placed under sanctions for their involvement in the proliferation or use of chemical weapons through a dedicated website;
5.) Strengthen the capacity of Participating States, through national and supranational measures, to hold accountable those involved in the use of chemical weapons, including by enhancing the legal and operational capabilities of States to identify and sanction or prosecute individuals and entities involved in the proliferation or use of chemical weapons:
6.) Support, where appropriate, common positions in existing for a regarding the use of chemical weapons, for example the OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council and General Assembly.
France will act as the coordinator in 2018. As such it will present the initiative at a forthcoming session of the EU Working Party on Non-Proliferation (CONOP), and at an as yet unspecified NATO format. A major objective will be to expand the number of CWC States Parties to associate themselves with the initiative.