Russia presents UN measure to rein in chemical weapons watchdog

Accuses the OPCW of politicisation just before a new probe of chemical attacks in Syria begins

Afp May 17, 2019
Western powers blamed the Syrian regime for the deadly attack on Douma and unleashed air strikes in response. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATES: Russia on Thursday presented a draft resolution to the Security Council accusing the UN's chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, of politicisation just before a new probe begins of chemical attacks in Syria.

The draft text, seen by AFP, states that the Council - where Russia holds veto power - is the only international body that can impose measures on countries that violate the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) agreed last year to set up a mechanism that would identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks, a move bitterly opposed by Russia and Syria.

The proposed resolution notes "with concern the continuing politicisation of the work of the OPCW and growing deviation from the established practice of taking consensus-based decisions."

UN diplomats said the Russian proposal was aimed at keeping the OPCW in check as it pushes ahead with the investigation to uncover those behind chemical weapons use in Syria.

"What it's really about of course is the Russians trying to strangle OPCW," said a diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The West pushed through the new blaming powers after OPCW reports confirmed chemical weapons use in Syria, as well as a nerve agent attack on Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury in March 2018.

"The Russian rationale is to weaken the OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention, with an eye on Syria but also Salisbury," said another diplomat.

It remained unclear when the draft resolution would be put to a vote. UN resolutions require nine votes and no vetoes to be adopted in the council.

The proposed resolution is backed by China, diplomats said.

"This looks like a desperate bid to prevent further confirmation that the Syrian government, like ISIS, repeatedly used chemical weapons in violation of international law," said Louis Charbonneau, UN director for Human Rights Watch.

The Russian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

OPCW chief Fernando Arias said in March that the new investigation of chemical attacks in Syria would begin in the coming weeks.

Western countries are calling on the team to start work on identifying the culprits behind a deadly attack in the Syrian town of Douma in April 2018.

The United States, Britain and France launched a one-off missile strike on Syria in April last year in response to the use of chemical weapons in Douma.

The OPCW said in a report that chlorine was likely used in that attack, which killed more than 40 people, but Russia and Syria have rejected those findings.

The report did not specify who was behind the Douma attack as it was not in the OPCW's mandate at the time.

In 2015, the council unanimously agreed to establish the OPCW-UN joint investigative mechanism (JIM) to identify those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria.

But in late 2017, Russia vetoed a bid to renew the mandate of the JIM after the panel blamed the Syrian government for chlorine attacks and for using sarin in a deadly assault on the town of Khan Sheikhun that same year.

Russia has used its veto 12 times at the council to shield its Syrian ally from international action.

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