Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights over chemical attacks

The member states of the global chemical weapons watchdog on Wednesday suspended Syria’s voting rights on the organization as punishment for repeated use of toxic gases by Damascus.

The vote, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, was the first time a member state of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was subject to such a sanction.

A group of 46 nations called for the move on Tuesday at the organisation’s annual meeting of member states. Behind the scenes, diplomatic efforts to reach consensus on the proposal failed and resulted in a vote on Wednesday in which 87 nations voted in favor of repealing Syria’s rights and 15 voted against. There were 34 abstentions.

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In a tweet, the British delegation to the meeting described the decision as a “decisive step in maintaining the credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention”.

Syria did not immediately respond to the meeting in The Hague.

France’s Ambassador Luis Vassy presented the proposed suspension on Tuesday, saying Syria’s use of banned chemical weapons is “irrefutable”.

Vassy tweeted that Wednesday’s vote was a “good day for multilateralism”.

In Damascus, the Syrian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the decision, saying Western countries had used “the worst forms of blackmail, threats, brawl and pressure” to take a decision against Syria that sets a “dangerous precedent”.

“This decision represents a dangerous development in the history of the OPCW and violates its charter. In the meantime, it is an aggressive move against a member state,” the State Department said in a statement.

Syria, which joined the organization in 2013 after being threatened with air strikes in response to a chemical attack on the outskirts of the state capital, denounced the move as a “propaganda tool” and rejected the use of chemical weapons.

An investigation mechanism set up by the OPCW has held the Syrian government troops responsible for chemical attacks on two occasions. Last week there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that a Syrian Air Force military helicopter dropped a chlorine bottle on a Syrian city in 2018, making 12 people sick.

Last year, the team found reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for attacks involving chlorine and the nerve agent sarin in the city of Latamneh in March 2017.

The investigation team was formed after Russia blocked the extension of a joint investigation mechanism established by the United Nations and the OPCW in 2015. This mechanism accused Syria of attacking chemical weapons, including the release of sarin in an air strike on Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, killing around 100 people.

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