Switzerland works to shed light on past deployments of chemical weapons and prevent their future use

Press releases, 15.05.2023

The Fifth Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will take place in The Hague from 15 to 19 May. The CWC seeks the permanent and verifiable destruction of all chemical weapons worldwide. At the conference, the 193 states parties, including Switzerland, will review progress towards implementation of the CWC and set priorities for the coming years. Repeated use of chemical weapons, notably in Syria, and the current geopolitical situation pose major challenges for the conference. Switzerland is committed to the scientific clarification of all uses of chemical weapons and seeks to strengthen the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in order to send a strong message against such weapons.

The CWC prohibits the development, production, acquisition and use of chemical weapons. The OPCW, of which Switzerland has been a member since 1997, is tasked with implementing the CWC. The repeated use of chemical weapons, particularly in Syria, since 2012, and the use of toxic chemical agents in the attack against Sergei Skripal in 2018 and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2020, have dominated discussions within the OPCW. This has created a highly polarised climate within the OPCW. Switzerland is committed to ensuring that the OPCW can continue to fulfil its tasks in a credible and impartial manner.

The CWC provides for a review of the Convention's implementation every five years and for recommendations to be made for the future. The Fifth Review Conference begins today in The Hague, the Netherlands, and will run until 19 May 2023. The main issue on the agenda is the use of chemical weapons in Syria and their clarification.

Earlier this year, the OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) published its third report, which investigated the perpetrators of a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018. The attack claimed the lives of 43 people and affected dozens more. Switzerland strongly condemns any use of chemical weapons. It works to ensure that all instances of chemical weapons use are clarified through a scientific investigation of the facts, and that those responsible are identified and held accountable.

The destruction of all declared chemical weapons, the verification of which is one of the OPCW's main tasks, should be completed this year. This is a major milestone. Yet the use of chemical weapons in recent years has shown that the OPCW's work is not over. On the contrary, the OPCW must focus its efforts on preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons. A robust verification regime, the ability to conduct challenge inspections, addressing the threat posed by non-state actors and raising awareness through public relations work are all essential to achieve this objective. Switzerland supports the efforts of the OPCW both through financial contributions, such as for the construction of the recently opened Centre for Chemistry and Technology, and through the provision of expertise. Furthermore, the Spiez Laboratory in Switzerland is one of the world's leading specialised organisations and forms part of the OPCW's network of designated laboratories.

Switzerland is among the group of states that are advancing the enforcement of the CWC's provisions. Despite attempts by some states to undermine the OPCW's credibility, these states have succeeded in taking effective countermeasures through clear majority decisions. These include the establishment of the IIT, the revocation of Syria's voting and electoral rights, and the inclusion of chemicals belonging to the 'Novichok' family in the annex to the CWC. Switzerland will continue to address these issues both at this review conference and in the future within the framework of the OPCW.

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