Risks Stemming from the Politicization of the Activities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

On March 24, there was an Arria-formula meeting organised by Russia, titled “Risks Stemming from the Politicization of the activities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW]”.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the President of the Vienna International Institute for Middle East Studies and former Permanent Representative of Iran to the UN and other International Organizations in Vienna, and Aaron Maté, a journalist at Grayzone, are the among the briefers.

The Organizer’s Concept Note circulated by Russia notes that the meeting is aimed at having an open discussion “to address the issue of diminishing authority of the OPCW due to its increasing politicization and misuse for promoting politically motivated narratives”. It cites the Syria chemical weapons file as an example and calls upon member states to share their ideas on how to address this issue.

The concept note also suggests a number of areas of focus for the discussion, including how to restore the credibility of the OPCW technical secretariat’s findings, ways of improving the transparency and accountability of the OPCW, lessons learnt from how the OPCW implemented its mandate, and how to ensure that UN and international organisations focus on issues on their agenda.

The findings of the third report of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), dated 27 January, is likely to be the most contentious issue at tomorrow’s meeting. The IIT was established to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria following a June 2018 decision of the Conference of States Parties (CSP) to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The IIT was formed after the Council failed to renew the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) that it had established through resolution 2235 of 7 August 2015 “to identify those responsible” for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Three consecutive vetoes by Russia—which questioned the working methods of the JIM and the independence and professionalism of its staff—led to the mechanism’s termination in late 2017.

The IIT report covers the findings of the investigations conducted between January 2021 and December 2022 on the 7 April 2018 incident in Douma. It concludes that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Forces were the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attack that took place that day. The report says that at least one Mi-8/17 helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Forces, departing from Dumayr air base, “dropped two yellow cylinders which hit two residential buildings” in a central area of the city, killing at least 43 people, including 17 women, nine boys, and ten girls. It further says that the IIT “thoroughly pursued” scenarios and lines of inquiry suggested by the Syrian authorities and other States Parties—including allegations by Syria and Russia that the incident had been “staged by terrorist armed groups”—but was unable to obtain concrete information supporting those allegations.

On 27 January, the foreign ministers of France, the UK, the US and Germany released a joint statement on the IIT’s third report. The statement condemned the “Syrian regime’s repeated use of these horrific weapons” and called on the Syrian authorities to comply with its obligations under the CWC and relevant Security Council resolutions. It further asserted that the Russian military police helped the Syrian government obstruct the OPCW’s access to the site of the incident and attempted to “sanitize the site”. The statement’s signatories commended the “independent, unbiased, and expert work of the OPCW staff” and reaffirmed their commitment to hold accountable perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria and elsewhere.

In his remarks at the 7 February Council briefing on the Syria chemical weapons track, Director-General of the OPCW Fernando Arias noted that the evidence collected and analysed in the investigations of the 7 April 2018 Douma incident corroborated the conclusions of the 27 January report, and rejected other scenarios. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 6 February.)

On 13 March, representatives of Russia and Syria held a joint briefing at the Russian embassy in Netherlands, calling into question the veracity of the OPCW’s 27 January report. According to the press release circulated following the briefing, the representatives provided their detailed assessments on the report, calling it “politically charged” and being compiled in an “an openly anti-Syria and anti-Russia spirit”.

Member states’ long-standing divisions on the OPCW are likely to be reflected in their interventions tomorrow. Over the years, Council members have displayed starkly different views on the credibility of the OPCW’s work. While several members, including the P3 (France, the UK and the US), have consistently expressed support for the OPCW’s work, maintaining that it is credible and essential, other members, such as China and Russia, argue that the organisation is biased and politicised.

The Council’s divergent views with regard to the OPCW were apparent in the 7 February Council briefing. Calling into question the working principles of the OPCW technical secretariat, Russia noted that it does not recognise the IIT as its “establishment was pushed through the Executive Council of the OPCW in violation of the principle of consensus”. China expressed a similar view regarding the establishment of the IIT and further noted that the IIT’s “working methods and procedures do not meet the requirements of the CWC”. Several Council members, including Ghana speaking on behalf of the A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique), Japan, Malta, the UK and the US expressed support for the work of the OPCW. Members including Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US issued a joint statement following the Council briefing, expressing support for the “impartial, independent and professional work of the OPCW”.

The findings of the 27 January report will be used by members to emphasise the question of responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and also express their support for the work of the OPCW. Others may raise doubts about the report’s findings and methodology, and question the transparency and accountability of the OPCW.

VIDEO OF THE MEETING: “Risks stemming from the politicization of the activities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons” – Security Council Arria-Formula

Related Sites and Documents:

Remarks by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at “Arria-formula” Meeting of UNSC Members on Risks Stemming from Politicization of the Activities of the OPCW


I welcome you to this informal Arria meeting of UNNSC members dedicated to the risks stemming from politicizations of the actions of OPCW.

Members of the Security Council must be well aware of this problem. At the insistence of Western states, we have to listen to unsubstantiated allegations against Damascus in connection to its chemical file at the monthly meetings of the Council on the implementation of UNSC resolution 2118. For political considerations, they do not agree to optimize the schedule of such meetings. But as soon as we talk about the real problem – the shameless attempts of the collective West to use the OPCW Technical Secretariat in their own selfish interests, they try to either shut us up or accuse us of politicizing the Organization. Today, we just propose to talk calmly and objectively and figure out who is really “troubling the water”.

We have a clear answer to this. We have seen how in recent years almost any mention of the OPCW has been politicized in an anti-Syrian and anti-Russian spirit. The traditional resolution of the General Assembly on the implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has acquired a distinctly propagandistic character. Consensus has been lost on an important symbolic resolution on cooperation between the UN and the OPCW, the content of which has long exceeded the scope of this issue. It has come to the point that any debate on the issue of chemical weapons turns into a political debate that has nothing to do with the fulfillment of OPCW’s statutory tasks.

In the first place, this trend is harmful for the OPCW itself. We have long paid attention to the irregularities in its operation, which surfaced with the beginning of the politicization of the Syrian “chemical file”, despite the fact that Damascus destroyed its chemical arsenal long ago and continues to cooperate with the Technical Secretariat. Today we have invited as a briefer Mr. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, President of the Vienna International Institute for Middle East Studies. Mr.Soltanieh, former Permanent Representative of Iran to the UN and international organizations in Vienna, has huge expertise in the area of disarmament. In 2013, the Syrian government invited him as an adviser to assist in the accession of Damascus to the Chemical Weapons Convention. We are grateful to Mr. Soltanieh for his readiness to share today his experience and truly expert assessments of the OPCW’s activities at the Syrian track.

Problems at this track were piling up for years and assumed increasingly menacing proportion. It would take a while to enumerate them all. However, to ignore the most obvious violations that impede the normal functioning of the OPCW would be the wrong thing to do. In this connection, we highly appreciate the activities of our second briefer for today, Mr.Aaron Maté, a contributor to “Grayzone”, who has shown a true example of independent journalism by bringing to the public the egregious cases of falsification of the results of the 2018 Douma investigation by the OPCW Fact Finding Mission for Syria (FFM), which were reflected in a report of this mechanism.

We hope that member states will fully realize the extreme seriousness of the topic under discussion today. After all, this is not just musings by some individuals, but an official report of the OPCW on the work accomplished, something that the Director General of the Organization fully subscribed to. We call you to think about this and estimate what would have happened if a staged incident, like the one in Duma, had occurred on the territory of another state, and the OPCW, instead of performing its functions as an independent international organization in strict accordance with its mandate, had been forced by external pressure to promote a vision that is beneficial to someone, while ignoring for years the inconsistencies that inevitably would have risen in this case.

Today Mr. Maté is ready to share his independent assessments of the latest report of the so-called Investigation and Identification Team of the OPCW regarding the same Douma incident.

We hope that today member states will be able to hold a meaningful discussion of this completely unacceptable situation, identify potential options for correcting it and exchange views on what practical measures may help prevent the politicization of the OPCW, as well as other international organizations.

Closing remarks:

We called this meeting in order to discuss the dangerous implications of politicization of the work of OPCW and look for ways to remedy the inadequate situation within the Organization. We regret that instead of committing to this goal, some delegations chose to narrow down this discussion to the allegations against Russian and Syria. We also see this happen in the Security Council meetings and in the General Assembly. 102th session of the OPCW Executive Council that convened on 14-17 March in the Hague was very indicative in this regard.

But let me stress one simple fact. The questions that us and other countries have to the activities of the OPCW only need clear answers. To elaborate, accusing us of propaganda making and trying to besmirch the OPCW cannot be considered clear answers. As the saying goes, offence is the best defense, and that is exactly what we see. As soon as we try to draw attention to facts proving that the OPCW Technical Secretariat engages in improper activities, we hear right away that everything we say is a propaganda and disinformation campaign. I wonder if some of you have more solid arguments.

We regret that due to the policy of the OPCW Technical Secretariat that is supported by Western countries, the entire Organization appears compromised. At the same time, we are sure that there are many honest and professional specialists in the OPCW, and that they have the majority. Unfortunately, their collective reputation is associated with the deliberate policy of the leadership of the Technical Secretariat that literally undermines the Chemical Weapons Convention. What do we all want from the Technical Secretariat? Neither more nor less than faithful implementation of the provisions of the CWC, which the TS fails to follow.

Of course, this meeting did not pass without mentioning the Salisbury incident and the Navalny incident. It is very indicative that in both cases, the OPCW used the exactly same tactic as with the Syrian chemical file.

May I remind that Russia was the first to be interested in cooperating with the British side to clarify all the circumstances of what happened in Salisbury. But instead of conducting an objective investigation, London preferred to immediately make accusations against our country while basically recognizing the lack of any evidence. We all remember the infamous wording “highly likely”. By the way, the wording “reasonable grounds to believe” that the Technical Secretariat applies to the Douma incident, is but little different.  Besides, the UK never gave any matter-of-fact answers to the numerous questions that Russia raised with regard to the incident.

Recently we circulated a substantial report “Salisbury: five years of unanswered questions” that was prepared by the Russian Embassy in the UK as an official document of the Security Council and General Assembly. It is an 80-pages longread and I realize that not all of you have time and capacity to study it thoroughly, though some of you simply are not willing to. We will prepare a summary and publish the questions that we asked to the British side. None of them was ever answered, though the questions are very markworthy. I reckon you would be very interested to read it. Same will be done regarding the Navalny incident.

I thank you for taking part in this Arria meeting which I believe was very useful. I assure you that we will give no peace to the Technical Secretariat or to you for that matter, until the incident in Douma receives a just and objective assessment.

Thank you.


Aaron Mate at UN: OPCW Cover-Up Denies Justice to Syria Victims