Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Chemical body gets new powers



Chemical body gets new powers

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A laboratory technician holds a test vial at the the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons headquarters in the Hague, the Netherlands, on April 20. JOHN THYS/afp

Chemical body gets new powers

THE international community on Wednesday endowed the global chemical weapons watchdog with new powers to identify those behind toxic arms attacks in Syria, prompting an angry Russia to say it would not rule out leaving what it called a “sinking Titanic”.

After two days of tense talks and in face of stiff opposition from Moscow and Damascus, a British-led proposal to strengthen the mandate of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) passed by 82 votes in favour with 24 against.

The OPCW now “has a crucial extra power, not just to identify the use of chemical weapons, but also to point the finger at the organisation, the state that they think is responsible,” said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Other delegates said applause broke out after the vote at the rare special session of the OPCW’s top policy-making body, called by London following recent repeated use of poison gases in Syria, Iraq as well as nerve agent attacks in Malaysia and Britain.
But Moscow, which along with Syria and Iran had vehemently opposed the move, shot back that the move was a sign the watchdog was on the brink of collapse.

“The OPCW is sinking like the Titanic,” Russian Ambassador to the Netherlands Alexander Shulgin told reporters. “It looks like the collapse of the organisation is currently in the making.”

Asked point blank if Russia, which joined the OPCW at its beginnings in 1997, would withdraw from the body, Shulgin said “all options are on the table”, adding that the watchdog, which has overseen the destruction of all its declared chemical weapons, had been “severely damaged”.

Russia, with its allies, had argued that giving the OPCW the power to say who was behind a chemical weapons attack was going beyond its legal mandate, maintaining only bodies such as the UN Security Council had such authority.

‘Critical step’

But the international community had become increasingly frustrated at the lack of any mechanism to hold those behind chemical weapons attacks to account.

According to the text of Wednesday’s decision, seen by AFP, the OPCW’s secretariat “shall put in place arrangements to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic”.

British ambassador to The Hague, Peter Wilson, hailed “an important day” saying the move was “a critical step forward in ensuring the chemical weapons abuse stops”.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu and his successor, who takes over in July, were also mandated to draw up proposals to give the body broader powers to identify those unleashing chemical weapons in any other country, if governments ask for help.
Those proposals will go to the next meeting of state parties in November for a vote, Wilson told reporters.

“The principle has been established that there should be a general attribution arrangement as well as a clear flick of the switch which allows the director general to proceed with attribution in Syria,” he said.

Both Moscow, the main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Damascus, stand accused by the international community of using chemical weapons in recent months – allegations they deny.

Indeed it was amid pressure from the United States and Russia, that Syria finally agreed in 2013 to join the Chemical Weapons Convention after denying for decades that it had a toxic arms stockpile.

The vote came as the OPCW is also due to publish a highly-anticipated report into an alleged chlorine and sarin gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma. Moscow and Damascus insist the attack was fake, staged by the Syrian rescue volunteers known as the White Helmets.

Wilson confirmed the OPCW now had the power to identify who could be behind the April attack in Douma in which medics and rescuers said 40 people were killed.

Late last year, Russia had wielded its veto power at the UN Security Council to effectively kill off a joint UN-OPCW panel aimed at identifying those behind suspected chemical attacks in Syria.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Kingdom’s rice crowned world’s No1

    Cambodia’s Phka Rumduol jasmine variety has been crowned the World’s Best Rice for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17, according to leaders of the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body. Phka Rumduol

  • Ministry to 'seek justice' for officials indicted in US for 'monkey smuggling'

    The Cambodian government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said they will make the “utmost effort” to seek justice for a Cambodian official arrested in John F Kennedy International Airport in New York for allegedly conspiring to smuggle crab-eating macaque monkeys (Macaca fascicularis)

  • Takeo hand-woven silk items provide local high-quality alternative to imports

    After graduating from university and beginning her career as a civil servant at the the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Khieu Sina found time to establish a business that aligns with her true passion – quality hand-woven Khmer goods. Her product line, known as Banteay Srei,