THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AFP) — The global chemical weapons watchdog voted Wednesday to take the unprecedented step of stripping Syria of its rights at the organization after a probe blamed Damascus for poison gas attacks.
Syria will have its own voting rights revoked at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and will be banned from holding any offices at the Netherlands-based agency.
The measures are in response to an OPCW investigation last year that found the Syrian air force had used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine gas in three attacks on the village of Lataminah in 2017.
It is the first time a country has been hit with such punishment in the history of the OPCW, which was founded nearly a quarter of a century ago to rid the world of chemical weapons.
Syria and its ally Russia have consistently denied that Damascus has used chemical weapons during the ten-year civil war, arguing that the watchdog has become politicized by the West.
A two-thirds majority of the regulator’s 193 member states voted in favor of a proposal by 46 nations including France, Britain, and the United States to deprive Syria of “rights and privileges.”
“In light of this result the draft resolution is adopted,” said Jose Antonio Zabalgoitia Trejo, the chairman of the meeting of the OPCW’s member states who had gathered at its headquarters in The Hague.
Eighty-seven countries voted in favor of the motion, 15 including Syria, Russia, China and Iran voted against, and 34 abstained, OPCW officials said. A total of 136 out of the agency’s 193 member states voted.
‘Rights and privileges’
Syria’s rights will remain suspended until member states decide that Damascus has fully declared all its chemical weapons and weapons-making facilities, the motion says.
The motion said the OPCW “decides, after careful review, and without prejudice to the Syrian Arab Republic’s obligations under the (Chemical Weapons) Convention, to suspend the following rights and privileges.”
These include the right to vote in either the annual conference of all member states or the OPCW’s executive council, to stand for election in the executive council, or to hold any office in the agency, it said.
OPCW chief Fernando Arias will “regularly report… on whether the Syrian Arab Republic has completed all of the measures” demanded by the watchdog, it adds.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed in 2013 to join the OPCW and give up all chemical weapons, following a suspected sarin nerve gas attack that killed 1,400 people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.
But it has been repeatedly accused of chemical weapons attacks since then.
A new OPCW investigations team with the power to apportion blame — the agency previously only had the mandate to say if chemical attacks had been carried out or not — blamed Syria for the Lataminah attacks in March 2017.
Damascus then failed to adhere to a 90-day deadline set by the executive council to declare the weapons used in the attacks, reveal its remaining stocks and comply with OPCW inspections.
France submitted the motion to strip Syria of its privileges in response.
Pressure mounted on Damascus last week after a second OPCW investigation found a Syrian helicopter dropped a chlorine bomb on the rebel-held town of Saraqib in 2018.
The UN recently said Damascus has for years not replied to a series of 19 questions about its weapons installations