Green Cross/Global Green Organize Roundtable in The Hague on Civil Society and Chemical Weapons Abolition

The Environmental Security and Sustainability (ESS) Program of Green Cross International and Global Green USA organized a two-hour roundtable in The Hague, The Netherlands on July 19th to focus on stakeholder involvement and the global ban on chemical weapons. Entitled “Briefing on Follow-up Steps to Further Enhance Stakeholder Involvement with the OPCW after the Third Review Conference,” the discussion was focused on how best to involve civil society to strengthen the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), now joined by 189 countries across the globe. Although the CWC entered into force in 1997, sixteen years ago, and hosts an annual Conference of States Parties (CSP) and a Review Conference every five years in The Hague, very few non-governmental organizations, experts, academics, and industry representatives have participated over its sixteen years of operation. The CWC is implemented by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, a multilateral regime which oversees the destruction of chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles in seven declared possessor countries, helps to prevent the reemergence of chemical weapons, and promotes the peaceful uses of chemistry.

The Green Cross/Global Green ESS Program established a “CWC Coalition” in 2009 to help network, coordinate, and expand civil society involvement in the abolition regime and was able to register over 150 NGO representatives and experts from all regions of the world for the Third Five-Year Review Conference (“RevCon”) held in April 2013. The July 19th meeting brought together five NGO experts (Dr. Per Runn, Dr. Ralf Trapp, Mr. Hassan Mashhadi, Ambassador Serguei Batsanov, and Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders) to discuss progress made at the April conference, and also included introductory presentations by Ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu, the OPCW Director General; Ambassador Olexandr Horin, Chairman of the OPCW Executive Council; Ambassador Krzysztof Paturej, Chairman of the Third Review Conference; and Dr. Paul F. Walker, Director of the ESS Program and coordinator of the CWC Coalition. The panel discussion was moderated by Mr. Michael Luhan, Head of OPCW Media and Public Affairs, and the discussant was Mr. Richard Guthrie of CBW Events.

The OPCW has overseen and verified the safe and irreversible destruction of over 56,000 metric tons of deadly chemical agents over the past 16 years in the US, Russia, Albania, Libya, India, and South Korea; this represents close to 80% of declared CW stockpiles. The US, Russia, Libya, and Iraq still have more chemical agents to destroy, but it is expected that this effort will be completed in the next decade. And six countries still remain outside of the CWC regime – Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, South Sudan, and Syria. Much discussion at the OPCW this month, especially during the 73rd session of the Executive Council, focused on the issue of Syrian chemical weapons, with the US, Britain, France, Germany, and other countries arguing that the OPCW must address this issue and condemn any use of chemical agents, completely banned by the CWC. Both Russia and Iran have argued that because Syria is not a CWC State Party, the issue should not be formally on the agendas of the OPCW and EC, but they also fully condemn any use of chemical agents.

OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu stated in his opening remarks that civil society has played a very important role in many arms control, disarmament, public health, and environment-related regimes including the ban on land mines, on cluster bombs, on nuclear weapons, and on both biological and chemical weapons. Uzumcu urged civil society and non-governmental organizations “to continue their important role” promoting peace, security, and sustainability, and thanked the CWC Coalition for its catalytic effort to raise public awareness of the importance of these global regimes.

The Green Cross/Global Green ESS Program has worked since the mid-1990s to facilitate safe and sound nonproliferation and elimination of weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, and biological; of strategic launch systems including strategic ballistic missiles, submarines, and bombers; of conventional weapons; and of fissile material and radioactive sources which could be used for nuclear devices or “dirty bombs.” It has also worked to promote the clean-up and remediation of military and civilian lands and waters polluted with toxic contamination and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) from wars and military training, and to better understand the impacts on public health and the environment. More information on the July 19th CWC Coalition event in The Hague, and on chemical weapons destruction in general, can be found at www.opcw.org and www.cwccoalition.org.