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What does the OPCW do?

April 5, 2018

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has recently grabbed headlines over the case of the poisoned ex-double agent Skripal. Apart from that, the agency works rather unobtrusively in the background.

OPCW Logo der Organisation für das Verbot von Chemiewaffen
Image: picture-alliance/ANP/dpa/E. Daniels

Perhaps not many people know about the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), but the intergovernmental body has a not inconsiderable task: to keep the world free of chemical weapons.

Precisely, it monitors the adherence and implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms control treaty that entered into force in 1997. The accord prohibits the development, production, possession, dissemination and the use of chemical weapons.

The OPCW aims at elimination of existing chemical weapons, as well as preventing their development.

The member states can also seek advice on how they can protect themselves from threats related to chemical weapons. 192 states are currently members of the OPCW. Only Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan are missing.

Nobel Peace Prize for a dangerous mission

The OPCW is based in The Hague, Netherlands. Moscow has now called for a meeting of the agency's Executive Council. This body consists of inspectors from 42 countries. They are allowed to visit military installations and civilian industrial companies — unannounced. Turkish diplomat Ahmet Üzümcü is currently serving as OPCW's director general.

The OPCW does not get involved in political conflicts and has so far been successful with that. More than 96 percent of the world's declared chemical weapons stocks have been destroyed under its supervision to date.

In recognition of its work and particularly because of its mission in Syria, where OPCW's inspectors partially destroyed the Syrian regime's chemical weapons arsenal, the organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. The award was not only a surprise for the public but also for the agency itself.

The OPCW has also investigated the recent toxic gas attacks in Syria. It came to the conclusion that the use of toxic gas is "unarguable." The Syrian government has rejected the accusations.