European Union External Action

Remembering victims of chemical weapons

30/11/2019 - 08:39
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November 30 is a day of remembrance for victims of chemical warfare. On this day the EU reaffirms its support to the universal ban on chemical weapons. “It is a tribute to all those who have lost their lives or loved ones and suffered harm from chemical weapons as well as a commitment to promoting peace and security,” said the EU High Representative. Even if we are approaching an era where an entire category of weapons of mass destruction will have been eradicated, we are still confronted with their use today. The chemical attacks on people in Syria are shocking war crimes and violate international norms. They have caused hundreds of victims, including children.

Chemical Weapons were used on a massive scale during World War I, resulting in more than 100,000 fatalities and a million casualties. However, Chemical Weapons were not used on the battleground in Europe in World War II. Following World War II, and with the advent of the nuclear debate, several countries gradually came to the realisation that the marginal value of having Chemical Weapons in their arsenals was limited, while the threat posed by the availability and proliferation of such weapons made a comprehensive ban desirable.

The Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force on 29 April 1997, “for the sake of all mankind, to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention and the crucial work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have contributed to eliminating 97% of chemical weapons stockpiles declared by possessor states. This makes the Chemical Weapons Convention the world's most successful disarmament treaty.

The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemical as a weapon, anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstances is unacceptable. The international community has the task and the responsibility to identify and hold accountable those responsible for the use of chemical weapons.

The establishment in 2018 of the OPCW attribution mechanism, the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), is crucial in this regard. This year the European Union, has stepped up its support to the OPCW committing €11.6 million for the next three years of OPCW activities.

EU-funded clean-up operation at a chemical weapons storage site in Libya

One of the OPCW's recent activities was to assist clean-up operations at the former chemical weapons storage site in Libya with the financial support of over €2.5 million provided by the EU. With the completion of the destruction of Libya’s chemical weapons, this two-year project contributed to the overall safety and security of the Northern Africa region. A total of 24 contaminated tanks were treated and the wastewater pumped into an evaporation lagoon. Further treatment involved 350 metric tons of highly acidic HD effluent from previous destruction operations. The treated material was placed in a separate lagoon for solar evaporation. Evaporation was completed in late October 2019 and the final sealing of the environmentally compliant remaining material was verified as non hazardous.

The European Union will continue to support the activities of the OPCW with a view to eradicating declared chemical weapons and holding accountable those responsible for their use.