For the first time civil society is given a platform at the Chemical Weapons Convention


In a major coup for global civil society, non-governmental organisations - including the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) - were this week for the first time provided the opportunity to address states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention is being held from 8-19 April 2013 in The Hague. The CWC represents the world’s first multilateral disarmament agreement providing for the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction within a fixed timeframe.

Unlike other disarmament and non-proliferation regimes such as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and their Destruction and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the CWC has in the past only allowed non-governmental experts to organise side-events outside of the main meeting and often even away from the building in which states parties meet.

The CWC obliges states parties not to develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, transfer, use or prepare to use chemical weapons. The Convention also requires the destruction of all chemical weapons and chemical weapon production facilities owned or controlled by a state party, as well as the destruction of chemical weapons abandoned by a state party on the territory of another state party.

The vast majority of African states have signed up to the CWC. Angola, Somalia, Egypt and South Sudan are among the eight countries not party to the CWC. With 188 states parties, the Convention is one of the most successful international disarmament treaties. These four African states, like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Syrian Arab Republic, have not even signed the CWC. Israel and Burma have signed but not ratified.

The NGO session was opened by the Chair of the Conference, Ambassador Krzysztof Paturej of Poland, who described the decision for greater civil society participation as a ‘landmark’. Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Üzümcü, welcomed the ‘pioneer effort’ as a step forward in civil society engagement and said he looked forward to ‘valuable and constructive inputs’.

Among the NGOs that presented papers were Green Cross International; the Citizens’ Advisory Commission; the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support; Okan University (Turkey); the Centre for Non-Proliferation and Export Control Issues; the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre; the International Center for Chemical Safety and Security (Poland); Green Cross Russia; the Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Project & Omega Research Foundation; the Research Programme on CBW, PUC Institute of International Relations; and the NPS Global Foundation (Argentina).

The ISS addressed the session on the impact that conventions such as the CWC have on Africa’s socio-economic development. The benefits of being a state party include the right to participate in the fullest possible exchange of chemicals, equipment and scientific and technical information relating to the development and application of chemistry for purposes not prohibited under the Convention. Engagement on this issue in Africa must include (or even predominantly focus on) both the developmental benefits and the security dimensions of CWC membership. Implementing the CWC does not solely pertain to security, but also to keeping prohibited chemicals out of the hands of unauthorised state and non-state actors. For African states, technical assistance, cooperation and the transfer of technology are most relevant given that the continent struggles with challenges such as poverty, unemployment and under-development.

The time for Angola, Somalia, Egypt and South Sudan to become states parties is thus long overdue. The four African non-parties’ accession will also reinforce the African Union’s (AU) call for a Chemical Weapons-Free Zone in Africa. This is something the AU has been pushing for since at least 2002 and which was strengthened in 2006 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the AU and the CWC’s implementation agency, the OPCW, and which underscores their continuing cooperation in the Convention’s implementation.  

Noel Stott, Senior Research Fellow, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria


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