Ensuring accountability for a confirmed use of chemical weapons is our responsibility, not least to the victims of such attacks. A lack of accountability emboldens those who would use such weapons by providing them with the reassurance of impunity. This in turn further weakens the norm proscribing the use of chemical weapons and the international disarmament and non-proliferation architecture as a whole.
António Guterres. Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Developments and trends, 2019

A period of intense challenge to the international norm against chemical weapons use continued throughout 2019. In that context, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) persisted in its efforts to broaden and strengthen the implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention).

At the international level, much of that work remained centred around allegations of chemical weapons possession and use in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Office for Disarmament Affairs continued to support the Secretary-General’s good offices in furtherance of the implementation of Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) on the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

OPCW continued to assist the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic in efforts to resolve all gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that had arisen from the initial declaration of its chemical weapons programme. The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission continued its work to establish the facts surrounding allegations of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Arab Republic. Pursuant to a 2018 decision of the fourth special session of the Conference of the States Parties, the OPCW Technical Secretariat established the Investigation and Identification Team to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons use in the country.

Separately, OPCW enhanced its efforts to build capacities among States parties to prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons. Through its related work, OPCW sought to bolster cooperation with key stakeholders in the areas of promoting the peaceful uses of chemistry; advance scientific and technological cooperation; counter threats posed by non-State actors; and expand partnerships with international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the chemical industry and other entities. During the year, further progress was made in an ongoing project to upgrade the OPCW Laboratory and Equipment Store into the Centre for Chemistry and Technology (ChemTech Centre). Furthermore, OPCW continued its work to universalize the Chemical Weapons Convention, urging the remaining four States not party to the Convention to join without delay or preconditions.

Women in Chemistry Symposium, OPCW Headquarters, 24 June 2019

Photo credit: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu delivering a statement at the twenty-fourth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Conference was held at the World Forum, The Hague, Netherlands, from 25 to 29 November 2019.

Photo credit: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

While no incidents concerning the potential use of biological weapons were reported in 2019, States worked to further strengthen a decades-old global ban on those arms. The United Republic of Tanzania ratified the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention) on 14 August, becoming the 183rd State party. As at 31 December, four signatory States had not yet ratified the Convention, and 10 States had neither signed nor ratified it. In 2019, States parties held five intersessional Meetings of Experts in July and August and a Meeting of States Parties in December as part of a previously adopted intersessional programme for the years 2018 to 2020.

Delegates of the 2019 Meeting of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention

Biological Weapons Convention Sponsorship Programme

The Biological Weapons Convention was the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban an entire category of weapons. Throughout the years since it entered into force in 1975, States parties have met at conferences organized every five years to review its operation. Between those review conferences, States parties have pursued various activities and initiatives to strengthen the effectiveness and improve the implementation of the Convention. Over the period from 2018 to 2019, States parties meet for five Meetings of Experts and one Meeting of States Parties .

In 2011, States that were party to the Convention established a Sponsorship Programme that they renewed at the Eighth Review Conference in 2016. Priority for sponsorship is given to those developing States Parties which have previously not participated in the meetings, or which have been unable to regularly send experts. Sponsorship may also be provided, depending on the availability of resources, to enhance the participation of States not party to the Convention, in order to promote its universalization. The Programme is funded through voluntary contributions from States parties in a position to make them .

Sponsorship programme participants in 2019: Argentina, Belarus, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Philippines, South Africa, State of Palestine, Sudan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, and United Republic of Tanzania.

The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations. Final boundary between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined.

Map source: United Nations Geospatial Information Section.

Participation in the Biological Weapons Convention confidence-building measures

Biological Weapons Convention: National Contact Points

In 2006, States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention agreed to designate national contact points to coordinate national implementation of the Convention; communicate with other States parties and international organizations; and carry out other Convention-related activities. The number of States parties that have designated a national contact point has more than doubled since that time.

A growing roster of experts

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is mandated to carry out investigations when Member States bring to his attention the possible use of chemical or biological weapons. The United Nations relies on Governments to designate technical experts to deploy to the field on short notice to support such investigations. A group of experts was activated in 2013 to look into reports of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Arab Republic .

In the following years, the Office for Disarmament Affairs has built a growing roster of experts .

The Office for Disarmament Affairs facilitates the design and delivery of specialized training courses to ensure that investigators can operate efficiently as a team under challenging field conditions. Since 2009, financial and technical support from Member States has enabled the Office to maintain a growing roster of qualified experts trained in areas critical to conducting efficient field investigations into an alleged use of chemical and biological weapons .

The number of qualified experts who have taken all available training courses has grown along with the overall roster .