Intervention by minister Blok during Special Session of the OPCW

Intervention by H.E. Stef Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands

Special Session of the OPCW on the Draft decision ‘Addressing the threat from Chemical Weapons’

Mr President, thank you for the opportunity to speak at this Special Session of the Conference of States Parties.

As a strong supporter of the multilateral system, we are proud to host a range of international organisations in the Netherlands, including the OPCW.

And as a founding member state to that organisation, and a staunch supporter of disarmament and the international legal order, we take the concern that prompted this meeting very seriously.

It’s a concern that is widely shared. A concern that is as simple as it is serious: a legal norm will be ineffective if we, the signatories, fail to uphold it.

This is true of any norm, including the universally accepted norm this organisation was set up to protect. A norm we all signed up to in the Chemical Weapons Convention: the prohibition of the use, production, proliferation and stockpiling of chemical weapons. By anyone, anywhere.

Mr President,

Last year, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of this organisation. We celebrated its success: the destruction of 96.3 per cent of the world’s declared stockpile. And we recognised the need to adapt to new challenges, like terrorism and the conduct of non-state actors.

But we also acknowledged the black cloud hanging over the celebrations: the recurrent use of chemical weapons in Syria, and other places: in Malaysia last year, and more recently in the UK. The result was terrible human suffering, but also the risk of a ‘new normal’: a situation where perpetrators consider themselves untouchable, and the established norm gradually erodes – right under our own eyes.

We must, at all cost, prevent this from becoming a reality.

That, Mr President, is what is at stake here today, at this Special Session.

Accountability is essential to keep any international norm alive. Fact-finding, investigation and attribution are all essential elements in the accountability chain. They send a clear message to the perpetrators: your behaviour will not go unpunished. And to the victims: justice will ultimately be done.

Under the guidance of Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü, this Organisation has been doing a tremendous job in investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The unequivocal conclusions of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) were that such weapons have been used on numerous occasions.

However, the work of the Technical Secretariat has so far been limited to fact-finding alone. The necessary follow-up, which could give these findings their full significance and lead to attribution and to justice, has stalled – ever since the Security Council failed to reach agreement on renewing the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism.

Mr President,

On May 17th of this year I had the honour to address the Security Council, of which we are a non-permanent member. I took the opportunity to speak about the need for restraint in the use of the veto, especially where mass atrocities are concerned.

Sadly, when it comes to establishing accountability for the use of chemical weapons, we must note that the veto has been used six times in a row, blocking the way forward.

I believe we can no longer accept this situation. Not if we want to prevent impunity for the use of chemical weapons gradually becoming the ‘new normal’. I firmly believe that none of us wants that. Clearly, it’s in no one’s interest.

For too long, the stalemate in the Security Council has prevented the establishment of a mechanism that can attribute responsibility to the perpetrators.

So today, I wish to repeat what I said in the Security Council in May: if and when the Council makes itself irrelevant by inaction, other avenues will have to be explored, to make sure that fundamental international norms are upheld.

We have no other choice.

Tasking the OPCW to investigate who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons is precisely such an ‘other avenue’. It’s a concrete and realistic option before us today. As co-sponsors of the draft decision submitted by the United Kingdom, we will of course vote in favour – and we hope others will do the same. 

Mr President,

We should use this Special Session to equip the Organisation with the tools it needs to take on this crucial task: full investigations into who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons.

In voting for this draft decision, we vote for justice. For accountability. For peace. And for a world without chemical weapons – the promise we all signed up to.

We hope others will join us in making this ultimate goal possible.  

Thank you.