The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will on Monday welcome its 190th member state — Syria — the country that has brought the relatively unknown body into the international spotlight.
Seated in the Dutch city of The Hague, the OPCW is responsible for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. The treaty came into force in 1997 with the aim of banning countries from making, acquiring, stockpiling or passing on chemical weapons.
The job of the OPCW is to verify its members’ status concerning their weapons arsenals and production plants.
The organization also monitors the destruction of such arms and provides technical support to countries in this field.
The body’s inspectors can also be deployed to investigate whether a country has used chemical weapons.
There are currently 27 OPCW experts in Syria tasked with inspecting and dismantling the country’s chemical arsenal.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has recommended boosting that number and setting up a 100-strong joint mission that would oversee the elimination of Syria’s estimated 1,000 tons of chemical weapons.
The organization is not part of the United Nations, but it cooperates closely with it.
The OPCW says it has verified the destruction of more than 59,000 tons of chemical warfare agent since 1997, the equivalent of 82 per cent of the world’s declared stockpile.
Some experts note that recent budget cuts have left the OPCW ill-equipped to deal with Syria.
“They don’t have enough inspectors to follow through on this,” said Paul Walker, a US activist who is fighting to ban chemical arms.
Mr. Walker was recently named one of this year’s winners of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.
The organization and its 490 employees are currently led by Turkish diplomat Ahmet Uzumcu, whose efforts in Syria are supported by all major powers, including the United States.
A predecessor of Uzumcu, Jose Bustani of Brazil, did not enjoy US backing when he tried to get Iraq to join the OPCW ahead of the 2003 Iraqi war.
He was sacked in April 2002 for alleged mismanagement. But his supporters charged that the real reason for his dismissal was the fact that he stood in the way of Washington’s plans for military action against Iraq.