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Chemical weapons watchdog punishes Syria over attacks

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Wednesday punished the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his government's use of chemical weapons. Photo by SANA/EPA
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Wednesday punished the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his government's use of chemical weapons. Photo by SANA/EPA

April 21 (UPI) -- A chemical weapons watchdog agreed Wednesday to revoke Syria's voting and election rights over its use of such munitions on its own people, making the Middle Eastern country the first to be censored by the international organization in this manner.

Member states of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention that went into effect in 1997, voted 87-15, with 34 absent, to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons. A two-thirds majority was required.

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Ned Price, the U.S. State Department spokesperson, described the vote to reporters in Washington, D.C., as "a historic decision" that condemns the regime of President Bashar al-Assad's continued use of chemical weapons in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The United States, which was one of 46 co-sponsors of the resolution, has assessed that Assad has used chemical weapons at least 50 times since 2013.

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"The United States welcomes the OPCW's decision and applauds the international community's continued commitment to upholding the international norm against the use of chemical weapons," Price said. "The use of chemical weapons by any state presents an unacceptable security threat to all."

Luis Vassy, the French ambassador to the Netherlands who introduced the drafter resolution on Tuesday, said the vote was "a good day for multilateralism."

The vote follows the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team releasing two reports, one earlier this month and one last year, that found "reasonable ground to believe" that Syria had used chemical weapons.

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The first report states sarin and chlorine were used as chemical weapons in March of 2017 in Ltamenah, affecting more than 100 people.

"Attacks of such a strategic nature would have only taken place on the basis of order from the higher authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic military command, the investigation's coordinator Santiago Onate-Laborde said.

The second report published April 8 said a Syrian military helicopter dropped at least one cylinder of a chemical weapon on eastern Saraqib on Feb. 4, 2018, affecting 12 people.

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Syria joined the organization in 2013 after agreeing to give up its chemical weapons under the convention after sarin was used as a weapon of war that August, killing an estimated 1,400 people.

Russia, a close ally to Syria, rebuked the vote, calling the draft decision "politically motivated," the conclusions of the investigation "tendentious" and the investigation team itself "illegitimate" with powers that exceed the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"The stats parties that devised and eventually pushed through the establishment of the attribution mechanism within the OPCW never intended to deal honestly and in good faith with the episodes of alleged use of chemical weapons in the SAR," Russia said in a statement to the organization ahead of the vote.

"Their main goal has been and remains to lend credibility to their disinformation, using the authority of the OPCW, and 'rubber-stamp' accusations against the legitimate Syrian authorities, which they arrogantly call 'the regime," it said.

Russia said if the resolution was adopted it would set a "very dangerous precedent and exacerbate the already deep divide" within the organization.

Last week, the European Union in a joint statement called for those who use chemical weapons to be held accountable, stating they are concerned over the continued use of such weapons in Syria and its failure to live up to its responsibilities to the convention and gaps and inconsistencies in its declarations.

"Syria's refusal to faithfully deliver the requested information cannot and must not remain unanswered," it said. "It is now up to the international community to take appropriate action."

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