Media Alert: OPCW’s Director-General’s Update to the 59th Executive Council Meeting on Salisbury Incident

18 April 2018
Incident in Salisbury UK

Incident in Salisbury UK

The Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, updated the OPCW Executive Council about the Salisbury incident at its 59th meeting.

On 4 April I updated the Council on the activities carried out by OPCW experts in support of a request for technical assistance by the United Kingdom related to the incident in Salisbury (EC-M-57/DG.1, dated 4 April 2018). Since then, the Organisation received the results of the sample analysis conducted by four designated laboratories. Based on these results, the Technical Secretariat prepared a report which it transmitted to the United Kingdom and, upon their request, to all other States Parties (TAV/02/18, dated 12 April 2018). In addition, we also made available an unclassified executive summary of that report.

Today, after my statement, Mr Marc-Michael Blum, the Head of the OPCW Laboratory and leader of the technical assistance team that was deployed to the United Kingdom, will brief the States Parties on the work that it undertook. He will also explain to the Council how the network of designated laboratories operates and the importance of confidentiality in the technical arrangements that we maintain with them.

I wish to take this opportunity to emphasise the policy followed by the Secretariat with regards to public statements made by officials of individual States Parties. The Secretariat will not respond publicly to such statements even if these are critical of the OPCW’s work. I do not think it is in the interest of the Organisation that the Secretariat gets involved in public discussions with States Parties. We will continue to use the Executive Council meetings or briefings to inform the States Parties about our activities and to clarify certain points which need to be addressed.

I should stress here that the network of designated labs has been of high value to the Organisation. This has been achieved through significant efforts and resources allocated by States Parties. The Technical Secretariat by providing capacity building activities and conducting regular proficiency tests has contributed to these collective endeavours.

The reliability and technical capabilities of the designated laboratories have been subject to close and rigorous scrutiny over the years. I would like to underline that the States Parties can be assured of the credibility and integrity of this network, and I am sure that the designated laboratories will continue to deliver in the same impeccable manner as they have done so to date. The technical and analytical capacity of the Organisation must be seen as one of the corner stones, and one that is supported by the science.

Background

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland requested technical assistance from the OPCW Technical Secretariat, under subparagraph 38(e) of Article VIII of the Chemical Weapons Convention, in relation to an incident in Salisbury on 4 March 2018 involving a toxic chemical—allegedly a nerve agent—and the poisoning and hospitalisation of three individuals. 

The OPCW team worked independently and is not involved in the national investigation by the UK authorities. No State Party was involved in the technical work carried out by the Technical Secretariat.

OPCW designated laboratories are a lynchpin of the Organisation’s verification regime and its capacity to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons. They must be able to perform off-site analysis of chemical samples collected by OPCW inspectors from chemical production facilities, storage depots and other installations, or from the site of an alleged use of chemical weapons. These laboratories offer the necessary assurance to our States Parties that chemical analyses needed to make determinations or to clarify issues occurring during OPCW deployments are carried out competently, impartially, and with unambiguous results. 

As the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, the OPCW oversees the global endeavour to permanently and verifiably eliminate chemical weapons. Since the Convention’s entry into force in 1997 – and with its 192 States Parties – it is the most successful disarmament treaty eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. 

Over 96% of all chemical weapon stockpiles declared by possessor States have been destroyed under OPCW verification. For its extensive efforts in eliminating chemical weapons, the OPCW received the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

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