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Published On: Wed, Nov 8th, 2017

Sloppy OPCW investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria discredits UN and permanent Security Council members

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Sloppy work by the joint OPCW-UN mechanism in the investigation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria on April 4, including an undocumented and broken chain of alleged evidence and condemnation of the “Syrian regime” based on allegedly “credible assumptions” led to a renewed row and posturing, rather than to unified efforts to end the use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond.

Chemical Weapon, Photo courtesy of VoRAlready on April 19 the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) initiated its work on 5 April 2017 after the Technical Secretariat’s preliminary assessment that the 4 April incident, allegedly involving the use of sarin nerve gas, allegedly used by Syrian military forces, in Syria’s Khan Sheikhun was a credible allegation.

Top laboratories but sloppy chain of evidence

The OPCW reported that the FFM was led by, and predominately comprised of, experienced and impartial inspectors with support from experts from various units across the Technical Secretariat. Describing its own work as the “lynchpin” for proficiency and integrity the OPCW stressed that tests are conducted in 18 OPCW Designated Laboratories in Europe, Asia and the United States of America.

Already on April 19 the the Executive Council of the OPCW reconvened to further address the allegation of chemical weapons use in the Khan Sheikhun area of southern Idlib in the Syrian Arab Republic. OPCW’s Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü updated Council members on recent developments regarding the OPCW Technical Secretariat’s activities.

Ambassador Üzümcü then underscored that the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) continues its work using procedures and methodologies consistent with its mission and reaffirmed that the FFM has been endorsed by the relevant decisions of the Executive Council and applicable resolutions of the UN Security Council. He reiterated his full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of colleagues comprising the Fact-Finding Mission teams.

After so many assurances and assertions one should presume that the FFM experts would at the very least adhere to minimum standards with regard to evidence, That is, documentation for the fact that alleged evidence was gathered at the alleged crime scene after the fact, guarantees that evidence has been protected and not been tampered with, and an unbroken, documented chain of evidence.

The OPCW reported that the bio-medical samples collected from three victims during their autopsy were analyzed at two OPCW designated laboratories. The OPCW then reported that the results of the analysis indicate that the victims were exposed to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance. Moreover, the OPCW reported that bio-medical samples from seven individuals undergoing treatment at hospitals were also analyzed in two other OPCW designated laboratories. Similarly, the results of these analyses indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance.

Director-General Üzümcü claimed: “The results of these analyses from four OPCW designated laboratories indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance. While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible.”

The OPCW claims that a rigorous methodology was employed for conducting an investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons that took into account corroboration between interviewee testimonies; open-source research, documents, and other records; and the characteristics of the samples including those provided by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The Director-General stated: “The OPCW FFM has confirmed the use of sarin, a nerve agent, at the 4 April incident in Khan Shaykhun in Syria. I strongly condemn this atrocity, which wholly contradicts the norms enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention. The perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes. In this context, the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism assumes high importance.”

The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was established by the UN Security Council (Resolution 2235, 7 August 2015) with the mandate to identify “to the greatest extent feasible” individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria, where the OPCW FFM determines or has determined that a specific incident involved or likely involved the use of chemicals as weapons.

But, let’s not forget the background and the alleged chain of evidence

The OPCW reported on June 30 that: In response to persistent allegations of chemical weapon attacks in Syria, the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) was set up in 2014 with an on-going mandate “to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic”. The FFM has previously confirmed with a “high degree of confidence” the use of chlorine and sulfur mustard as weapons. – Note that sarin now had mysteriously turned into chlorine.

Also on June 30 the OPCW reported that: The FFM is required to study available information relating to allegations of use of chemical weapons in Syria, including information provided by the Syrian Arab Republic and others. The FFM employs investigative methods to determine if chemical weapons have been used. It interviews witnesses and obtains environmental and bio-medical samples and physical evidence for analysis. The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission undertook a preliminary assessment of all available information immediately after reports of the incident in Khan Shaykhun and issued a status update on 12 May 2017 to States Parties of the Chemical Weapons Convention and others.

What the OPCW rarely but nonchalantly mentioned and mentions, are the facts that: * The OPCW investigators did not “secure the evidence” in Syria because they could not access the scene; * That OPCW investigators “received” bio-samples in Lebanon, delivered to them by persons linked to insurgents fighting against the Syrian government, or in other words, by “a party to the conflict” instead of securing evidence at the scene, by independent investigators.

All posturing and positioning and rows at the UN Security Council, between Russia and Syria on one hand, and the USA, France, the UK, on the other, prove once again that the UN Security Council is as dysfunctional and lacks as much credibility as the OPCW. Weapons of mass destructions are too serious an issue to be abused by permanent Security Council members for political posturing and positioning for geopolitical reasons. How ironic that “the international community of nations” should trust those few, self-anointed permanent guardians of “global security” who lack credibility, carve up the world like hegemons or mafia families in turf wars, and who are asserting that they are the selected few, like the filthy few in a rocker gang, who should be trusted with the right to possess weapons that can turn most of the world’s population into crispy critters within seconds.

CH/L – nsnbc 08.11.2017

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at

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