Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN hosted a First Committee Side Event “Challenges of Chemical Weapons” on October 29, 2013.
The host of the event, Permanent Representative (PR) Jarmo Viinanen, stressed that countering weapons of mass destruction demand close cooperation nationally and internationally. Therefore it was extremely rewarding that the event brought together three active implementing actors, namely the United Nations, the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) and the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (VERIFIN).
PR Viinanen underscored in his own remarks that it is instrumental that implementation of the CWC remains at the centre of attention. However, more work needs to be done with destructing existing stockpiles. The topic of the side event could not have been timelier. Viinanen noted that the most urgent challenges include taking stock and destructing chemical weapons in Syria.
The United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane stated that the global norm or taboo against the use of chemical weapons has undoubtedly been strengthened. The best way to prevent use was through a multilateral regime combining the prohibition and elimination of the weapons themselves.
Kane reminded that the United Nations has over many decades developed a set of five multilateral principles to guide the process of disarmament. These include transparency, verification, irreversibility, universality, and bindingness. According to Kane, the experience of the CWC, and the ongoing chemical disarmament operations in Syria, strongly reaffirm these specific principles. Syria’s accession to the CWC both helped to bring the convention closer to universality and established a binding legal commitment, coupled with verification, transparency, and a technical basis for reducing dramatically the likelihood of reversibility.
Kane believed that despite some chronic criticism of the United Nations for its perceived weaknesses in maintaining international peace and security, the recent Syria experience offers some convincing evidence of the unique and vital role of the United Nations system in dealing with complicated tasks relating to the use and elimination of chemical weapons.
The Head of OPCW’s laboratory Dr. Hugh Gregg explained how the OPCW has made certain that the sampling and analysis of samples provide factual evidence for example in the case of Syria. OPCW follows the principle of complete, unbroken chain of custody of samples. For the UN mission to Syria, the OPCW followed its own procedures for investigations of alleged use.
Cooperation between organisations has proved to be instrumental. For example Kane noted that by the time allegations of use of these weapons in Syria emerged earlier this year, the UN and OPCW were prepared. The experience of the UN and OPCW in implementing the investigation mechanism provided invaluable operational experience. The use of chemical weapons in Syria has further strengthened the legal and political arguments of those who believe that weapons of mass destruction should be eliminated because of their catastrophic humanitarian effects.
Dr. Gregg told that the laboratories have faced significant pressure for results after Åke Sellström's UN investigation mission returned from Syria. This was echoed by Professor Paula Vanninen who is the director of the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (VERIFIN).
VERIFIN as one of the OPCW's designated laboratories has provided assistance to Åke Sellström's UN investigation mission. PR Viinanen relayed that Finland values the trust that has been given to VERIFIN by the UN and OPCW. Vanninen stressed that in the case of Syria the high quality of reporting is important as it has high political impact.