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Under the convention all members must:
- destroy their chemical weapons
- declare any sites that have the potential to be used to make chemical weapons
- set up systems to verify that chemical production facilities are not being used to produce chemical weapons
- allow inspections of chemical facilities
- help others in the event chemicals weapons are used or threatened to be used.
The convention, which came into force in 1997, is almost fully supported around the world. There are 190 states party to the CWC; Israel and Myanmar have signed but are yet to ratify, and four others have yet to sign (North Korea, Angola, Egypt and South Sudan).
The international community responded strongly to evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria in 2013. Syria then joined the CWC and cooperated to declare and dismantle its stockpile of chemical weapons.
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
Based in The Hague, the OPCW was set up in 1997 to administer the CWC and ensure that countries adhere to it. It’s responsible for overseeing the destruction of chemical weapons and the facilities that make them. It's also responsible for inspecting facilities that produce or use chemicals that could be used to make chemical weapons, to make sure the chemicals are being used for the peaceful purposes stated.
Since 1997 the OPCW has conducted more than 5,500 inspections of chemical sites in 86 member countries. This has included inspections at 265 chemical weapon-related sites, and a little more than 2,000 of the 4,900 industrial sites liable to inspection. New Zealand has 11 relevant chemical production sites and all have been inspected by the OPCW. The inspection of one of these sites takes place on average every two years.
We have consistently supported the OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention and this is reflected in our Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1996. New Zealand is serving a two year term on the board of the OPCW until May 2016. Our work with the OPCW is carried out by officials at the New Zealand Permanent Mission at The Hague.
The convention has been very successful in achieving the destruction of around 85% of the world’s declared chemical weapons, with the remainder, mainly belonging to Russia and the US, on track for destruction in the next few years. New Zealand strongly advocates forthe Treaty and encourages the remaining countries to join.
There are also emerging threats and issues to work through. These are:
- the move away from traditional chemical weapons, to the use of ordinary chemicals, such as chlorine, which has been used in recent years in Syria and Iraq. While not generally as lethal, these chemicals still contravene the CWC. They can provide a military advantage, can be used to generate fear and are more difficult to detect. They are also more readily available to terrorists.
- that the convention allows for the use of chemicals for law enforcement purposes such as riot control. The convention doesn't define law enforcement, or what chemicals may be approriate for this use. There are particular concerns around the use of central nervous system acting chemicals (anaesthetics), which can be lethal.
The Australia Group
New Zealand also belongs to the Australia Group, an informal grouping of countries created in 1985 that work together to ensure their exports don’t contribute to the proliferation of chemical or biological weapons. Export controls, such as controlled goods lists and permit procedures, are coordinated between the 42 member countries to help ensure that material that could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction doesn’t get into the wrong hands.