The United Nations team investigating allegations of use of chemical weapons in Syria has arrived on 31 August in The Hague, the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), after having completed their two week deployment in Syria.
The UN investigation team, consisting of nine OPCW, three WHO experts and led by Dr Åke Sellström reached Damascus on 18 August. As per the agreement reached between the UN and the Syrian authorities, they were to conduct investigations where chemical weapons had allegedly been used, including Khan Al-Asal.
|UN inspection team leader Dr Åke Sellström greeted upon
his arrival at OPCW headquarters in The Hague by DG Üzümcü
While conducting planned activities, further allegations of the use of chemical weapons emerged after an attack in the suburbs of Damascus on 21 August. The UN Secretary-General asked the team to shift its focus on to the new allegations.
On 26 August the team convoy while crossing the buffer zone between government and opposition forces, en route to Al-Moadamiya town, where chemical weapons were alleged to have been used came under attack and two of the vehicles were damaged. The team changed one of the vehicles and continued with the mission. Team members visited hospitals, interviewed doctors and suspected victims of the alleged chemical weapons attack. This team, which included six OPCW experts, returned safely to its base that evening.
The OPCW Director-General condemned the attack, and called upon all concerned parties in Syria to respect the mandate of the team and to facilitate the conduct of its work in safe conditions. This was reiterated by the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon and Director-General Üzümcü when they met in The Hague on 28 August 2013.
The team continued its investigations in the suburbs of Damascus through the week of 26 August visiting allegedly affected areas. They collected both environmental and biological samples.
The evidence collected by the team will now undergo laboratory analysis and technical evaluation according to the established and recognised procedures and standards. These procedures may take up to three weeks for completion in a systematic, orderly and objective manner. Every effort will be made to expedite this process. Their report will be submitted to the United Nations Secretary General by Dr Sellström.
The Chemical Weapons Convention adhered to by 189 countries of the world represents today a global norm with zero tolerance for chemical weapons. For States that are not Parties, procedures are provided under the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism to investigate allegations of use of chemical weapons. The present investigation in Syria is proceeding under this mechanism. The Convention and the related arrangements between the UN and the OPCW establish the basis for cooperation between the two Organisations recognising that the latter possesses the necessary expertise to investigate allegations of use.
The Director-General of the OPCW, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü has commended the members of the team upon on their arrival back in The Hague for their courage, professionalism and their commitment in carrying out their assigned duties in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances. He also thanked the German government for providing an aircraft to transport the team to The Netherlands.
(OPCW, 31 August 2013)