Koenders: OPCW must continue to focus on Syria

Foreign minister Bert Koenders has expressed his concern about the repeated and systematic use of chlorine gas as a weapon by the Syrian government. ‘This constitutes a clear breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which should not remain without consequences,’ the minister said in his address to the Nineteenth Session of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Monday 1 December in The Hague.

In Mr Koenders’ opinion, major progress has been made in Syria recently, thanks to the OPCW’s successful efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks. He noted that the organisation had taken ‘extraordinary measures to deal with an extraordinary situation,’ and added that it had made an important contribution to international peace and security. The minister called on the OPCW to ‘continue to focus on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic until we are satisfied that the country’s chemical weapons programme has been completely and irreversibly destroyed.’ He emphasised that the ultimate responsibility for the destruction of these chemical weapons remains with Syria.

At the annual meeting, Mr Koenders also called on the OPCW to prepare for the future. He acknowledged that over 85% of the declared stocks of chemical weapons worldwide have now been destroyed, notably in the United States and Russia, and looked ahead to ‘a future where the OPCW’s focus will be not only on industry issues and international cooperation, but also – crucially – on preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons.’

In addition, Mr Koenders highlighted the crucial role the OPCW plays in the international community. ‘Almost a hundred years after chemical weapons were used on a large-scale for the first time, the world was again confronted with the use of these abhorrent weapons. The horrific attack on Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus in August last year, was a stark reminder of the importance of the OPCW.’

The OPCW, which is based in The Hague, monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which entered into force in 1997. It has 190 member states, which are working together to achieve a world free of chemical weapons. In 2013 the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.