- Precedents – Some Historical Notes
- Aims of the Convention
- Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
1. Precedents – Some Historical Notes
As a result of their highly lethal nature chemical weapons are a serious threat to humankind and to the environment. The Paris Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons of 1993 placed a total and definitive ban on these weapons. Attempts to prohibit the use of chemical weapons in armed conflicts have also been made in the past through specific international agreements.
The Hague Convention of 1907, while expressly prohibiting the use of toxic weapons as well as of those capable of producing unjustified suffering, did not succeed in averting a widespread use of poison gases during the First World War. After the First World War, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 more explicitly prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons as warfare agents. However, once again the use of such weapons was not definitively banned, since they were still allowed as a response to possible aggressions conducted with chemical weapons.
Chemical weapons were not banned entirely until 1989 when negotiations resumed in Geneva in the context of the Disarmament Conference, which, at the end of 1992, led to the approval of this Convention which prohibits the development, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons under any circumstances, even in response to an attack conducted with such weapons. The Convention, also stemming from a more relaxed international climate as well as from an increased confidence in East-West relations in all international settings from the mid-1980s onward, undoubtedly represented a significant step forward in disarmament agreements since for the first time an entire category of weapons of mass destruction had been prohibited, and their international abolition is envisaged within a definite timeframe.
The system of declarations and controls introduced by the CWC represents an innovation in disarmament treaties that has been adopted also by other Conventions.
The Convention—along with the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Biological Weapons Ban Convention—is one of the fundamental pillars underpinning disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction system. The Convention , which opened with its signing in Paris on 13 January 1993, entered into force on 29 April 1997, 180 days after its 65th ratification. The website of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons located in The Hague offers an updated picture on signatories and ratifications.
By ratifying the Convention, the States Parties undertook to destroy all their existing chemical weapons, to not stockpile or manufacture additional ones and to not encourage recourse to this type of weaponry for any purpose whatsoever, even in the wake of a direct attack using such weapons. The States Parties also gave their consent to inspections by International Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague aimed at verifying the destruction of existing arsenals, and to periodical checks of the chemicals industry aimed at ensuring that some chemical products that are largely employed for lawful civil purposes are not being used inappropriately for the production of chemical weapons. Italy ratified the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 1995 through Law no. 496, which was amended and supplemented by Law no. 93 of 4 April 1997. The two laws specified the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the National Authority, which is obligated to supervise and coordinate the complex measures for the implementation of the Convention and the Treaty on Italian soil.
The Convention prohibits any activity whatsoever aimed at the development, production, purchase, stockpiling, transfer or use of chemical weapons, and substances associated with them by anyone. To this end, it introduces a specific international system that, in addition to the destruction of existing stockpiles of chemical weapons by States Parties, envisages controls on the production and use of specific chemicals widely employed for civilian purposes but which could also potentially be used for the production of chemical weapons.
By ratifying the Convention, the States Parties have also undertaken not to engage in military activities for the production of chemical weapons and not to encourage any other country to undertake prohibited activities.The States Parties have also undertaken to adopt sanctions against all those who violate the Convention within their national territory.
The international control system established by the Convention is based on declarations and inspections. The States Parties submit periodical declarations to the International Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague (OPCW). These include civilian and military activities, which, according to the Convention, are subject to international control and, therefore, must be declared.
The system includes routine inspections to States Parties, carried out on very short notice by OPCW inspectors and aimed at ascertaining the consistency between the actual situation and the declarations submitted by the State Party. Should there be any concern over possible non-compliance with the CWC, the OPCW can provide for a challenge inspection upon request by one State Party, the purpose of which is to follow up onaccusations or suspicions of CWC violations, investigate situations not included in the periodical declarations, or verify the alleged use of chemical weapons.
a) Structure and Tasks
The Convention calls for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure implementation of the Convention, supply assistance and protection to all States Parties threatened by or attacked with chemical weapons and promotes international cooperation for the development of chemicals for peaceful ends.
In order to achieve these aims, the OPCW has a structure consisting of:
- the Conference of States Parties
- the Executive Council
- the Technical Secretariat, and
- Subsidiary Organs, which include the Political Committee, the Confidentiality Commission, the Scientific Committee and the Advisory Body on Administrative and Financial Matters.
b) Inspections According to the Convention, the Organisation can carry out various types of inspections in order to verify that the States parties are fulfilling the obligations under the CWC, and in particular, that they are destroying all their stocks of chemical weapons and are not producing any new ones.
- Routine inspections
OPCW routine inspections are aimed -also through the continuous monitoring of plant sites by the inspectors- at verifying the destruction of chemical weapons and stockspile storageawaiting destruction. Routine inspections include visits to industrial plant-sites producing or handling the chemicals referred to in the Convention and that have broad industrial application. Inspection teams arrive on 48 to 72 hours advance notice.
The National Authority's escort team meets the inspectors at their point of entry into the country and accompanies them throughout the inspection.
At the end of the inspection the National Authority receives an Inspection Preliminary Report, which, after the OPCW Director General's revision, becomes the Inspection Final Report and is transmitted to the State concerned.
- Challenge inspections
Challenge inspections are carried out upon the request of one State Party on the basis of well-founded suspicions of another State Party's illicit activity. To date, no State Party has requested the carrying out of challenge inspections by the Organisation. However, mock challenge inspections have been carried out in order to train personnel and establish procedures.
Non-signatory States cannot be inspected by the OPCW; nevertheless, the Organisation can put its available means at the disposal of the United Nations, if so requested.
c) Investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons This type of inspection is carried out by the Organisation when a State Party has allegedly used chemical weapons. To date, the Organisation has not carried out any inspection of this sort.
d) Assistance and protection measures According to Article X of the Convention, the States Parties can develop programmes for assistance and protection against chemical weapons with the support of the Organisation.
In the event of a chemical weapons attack, the Organisation can be requested to supply or coordinate technical assistance as well as protection, decontamination and healthcare assistance.
The States Parties undertake to put the necessary technical resources at the disposal of the Organisation as well as to ensure a constant exchange of information concerning protection activities.
In agreement with the Convention, each State Party also undertakes to contribute to a voluntary assistance fund, or to provide, when necessary, adequate support with qualified personnel or other means of protection or treatment.
e) Fostering economic and technological development
The Convention also aims at fostering the development of the chemicals sector and, to that end, promotes the free trade of chemicals and exchange of information on peaceful uses of chemicals among States Parties.
Conversely, in order to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons, the Convention prohibits the export toward non-signatory States of some technologies and chemicals, even those with widespread application, which could be used for non-peaceful purposes.