Parliamentarians' Role in Preventing the Spread of Chemical Weapons

Parliament and National Implementation

Parliaments can play a crucial role in the implementation of the CWC by considering and approving comprehensive national legislation, thereby allowing the authorities in the Member State to implement the provisions of the Convention fully and effectively. Parliaments also play an important oversight role in ensuring that the provisions of the Convention are implemented at the national level.

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How to prevent CW from spreading; how to prevent access to precursors

The full implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention is an essential requirement for the security of a nation as well as collective international security. Full and effective implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention enables States Parties to deter and prevent any effort to use chemical weapons to cause human casualties and mass disruptions.

Although the OPCW is not an anti-terrorism agency, the Convention contains a number of elements that can effectively contribute to the international struggle against chemical terrorism.

The Convention’s contribution towards preventing chemical terrorism has also been recognized by the United Nations. In 2004, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1540, stipulating that States shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-state actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, or transfer weapons of mass destruction.

Resolution 1540 is a binding obligation for all U.N. Member States, be they OPCW Member States or not, to enact and enforce all the necessary domestic controls to prevent terrorists’ access to these weapons or their precursors.

In 2006, the United Nations adopted its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The Global Strategy encourages the OPCW to continue its efforts, within its mandate, to help States build capacity to prevent terrorists from accessing chemical materials, to ensure security at related facilities, and to respond effectively in the event of an attack using such materials.

The OPCW can contribute its specialised expertise to combat chemical terrorism and make sure that those considering the use of chemical weapons cannot find any safe haven, including terrorists:

  • Declare any relevant industrial activity;
  • Enact legislation to monitor industry and trade in toxic chemicals;
  • Restrict access to certain chemicals to those countries that belong to the OPCW;
  • Put in place the administrative capacity to detect and pursue a breach of the ban;
  • Enact legislation to make any breach a serious crime and to allow for its prosecution and punishment;
  • Establish civil protection measures.

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Checklist for Legislators

As the legislator will notice in reviewing this checklist, the Convention may impact several areas of law, depending upon the State Party’s legal system, for instance: constitutional law, civilian and military statutes and penal codes, customs, immigration and administrative law, civil and criminal procedure.

Measures required under Article VII, paragraph 1

  • Prohibitions:
    • to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone
    • to use chemical weapons
    • to engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons
    • to assist encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under the Convention
    • to use riot control agents as a method of warfare
    • to produce, acquire, retain or use Schedule 1 chemicals outside the territories of States Parties or transfer such chemicals outside the State Party’s territory except to another State Party
    • to produce, acquire, retain, transfer or use Schedule 1 chemicals except for the purposes listed in VA VI (A)(2)(a)-(d)
    • to retransfer Schedule 1 chemicals
    • to transfer Schedule 1 chemicals outside the regime established by VA VI(B)(5) and VI(B)(5 bis)
    • to produce Schedule 1 chemicals outside the regime established by VA VI(C)
    • to transfer to or receive from States not Party Schedule 2 chemicals
    • to transfer to States not Party Schedule 3 chemicals without first receiving an end-user certificate from the competent government authority of the State not Party
  • penal provisions
  • extraterritorial application to nationals (natural persons)

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Other measures normally necessary

  • definition of chemical weapons
  • definition of toxic chemical
  • definition of ‘purposes not prohibited under this Convention’
  • arrangements enabling legal assistance to other States Parties
  • designate or establish the National Authority
  • mandatory reporting by natural and legal persons of information to the National Authority needed for declarations and notifications to the OPCW
    • Initial declarations of scheduled chemicals and facilities
    • Annual declarations of scheduled chemicals and facilities
  • regime for scheduled chemicals:
    • regulation of Schedule 1 production/use
    • criteria for Schedule 2 declarations (thresholds, mixtures – low concentrations)
    • criteria for Schedule 3 declarations (thresholds, mixtures – low concentrations)
    • import/export controls
  • licensing of industry
  • access to facilities
  • Respect for privileges and immunities of inspectors of the OPCW, delegates and staff
  • protection of confidential information
  • mandate and enforcement powers of the National Authority
  • annual submission of information on national protective programmes
  • primacy of the Convention
  • liability
  • enabling inspections (and penalties for interfering with the inspection process or falsifying information)

Existing legislation/regulations to be reviewed to render them consistent with the object and purpose of the Convention

  • recognition of the legal capacity, privileges and immunities of the OPCW, delegates and staff, including inspection teams
  • granting of multiple entry/exit/transit visas (valid for at least two years) to each inspector/inspection assistant
  • entry and exit of inspection equipment
  • use of inspection equipment
  • custody and transfer of samples
  • standing diplomatic clearance number for non-scheduled aircraft
  • trade in chemicals
  • allocate funds to pay assessed contribution to OPCW budget

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Upon completion, and each time legislation is amended or supplemented

  • inform the OPCW of the legislative and administrative measures taken to implement the Convention
  • provide the text of national implementing legislation

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Article III, IV and V Obligations (of particular importance for States Parties engaged in CW destruction or CWPF destruction/conversion activities)

  • ensuring the safety of people and protecting the environment, including site security (storage and destruction facilities)
  • CW, CWPF and CWSF declarations
  • enabling inspections (and penalties for interfering with the inspection process or falsifying information)

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Prosecution of violations of the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention

The OPCW pursues universal and effective implementation to ensure that these dangerous materials are used only for legitimate purposes. The list of prosecutions under the relevant national laws demonstrates the clear need to remain vigilant and to be prepared to stop any attempt to make or use chemical weapons by individuals.

Actual prosecutions as reported in the press

  • Japan, 1995: 12 killed and hundreds seriously injured by sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway: prosecution of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo members
  • Turkey, 2001: arrest of 5 persons for possession of 15 canisters of mustard gas. Charged with smuggling chemicals and possession of illegal weapons
  • Italy, 2002: Three Tunisian nationals with ties to al-Qaeda were tried and convicted in Milan for trafficking “toxic chemicals” and explosives and for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts.
  • United Kingdom, 2002: A secessionist group known as the Scottish National Liberation Army sent up to 16 packages of corrosive caustic soda to various political targets, including the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
  • United States, 2002: Joseph Konopka, was sentenced to 23 years in prison for, inter alia, possession and planting chemical weapons, vials containing cyanide in a tunnel of the Chicago subway system.
  • Mexico, 2002: A truck carrying 76 barrels of sodium cyanide was hijacked in Hidalgo.
  • United Kingdom, 2003: arrest of 7 persons suspected of producing ricin. Charged under the Chemical Weapons Act and Terrorism Act.
  • USA, 2003: prosecutions of a former boy scout leader in Spokane for producing ricin (Schedule 1), and arrest of a former university professor for stockpiling and possession of CW (potassium cyanide)
  • France, 2004: investigation of 15 persons suspected of preparing CW attacks on the Paris metro & Russian targets in France and elsewhere in Europe. Ricin was produced in parents’ spare bedroom in a coffee grinder, dried on newspapers and the powder stored in Nivea jars. Some jars found later in UK. At least one more jar still missing.
  • Italy 2004: In connection with the investigation of the train bombings in Madrid which occurred on 11 March 2004, Italian police obtained information from telephone wiretaps on two suspected terrorists that a woman was preparing a chemical attack on the United States. The transcript of the telephone conversation was forwarded to the United States authorities by the Italian Prosecutor.
  • Jordan, April 2004: Foiled Al-Qaeda attempt to drive trucks loaded with 20,000 tons of explosives in Jordanian prime minister’s office, intelligence headquarters and US Embassy. 71 chemicals in a mix of blister agents, nerve gas, choking agents. Estimated casualties: 80,000 people.
  • Mexico/Spain, 2004: Extradition proceedings in Mexico regarding 6 Spaniards and 3 Mexicans. Evidence found: information on how to make CW found in Mexican house. Spain alleges involvement with ETA.
  • UK, 2004: Five persons indicted for production of chemical weapons, ricin, in a London apartment. One person convicted in 2005 for poison conspiracy..
  • UK, April 2004: Police interrupted terrorist plot to use osmium tetroxide in a poison gas attack.
  • USA, May 2004: Arrest of two women for planning to kill one’s husband for insurance money, with ricin. Charged with attempted murder, and manufacture, possession, and transport of CW. Also, 3 persons plead guilty to stockpiling CW and firearms, including 800 grams of almost pure sodium cyanide which was found. If mixed with acid, it would create a bomb capable of killing thousands.
  • USA, June 2004: Incidents in Washington DC area: chlorine bomb thrown in a tavern, chlorine bomb in a mailbox, unidentified chemical bombs thrown into a residence and a school driveway. All meet legislation’s definition of CW; tavern bombing also investigated under 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act (5 or more victims)
  • USA, 2005: 22-year old male arrested for possession of ricin and weapons.

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