OPCW: Independent Investigation into Possible Breaches of Confidentiality Report Released

OPCW’s Director-General Shares Report Findings with States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention

6 February 2020

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – 6 February 2020 – In a briefing to States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), H.E. Mr Fernando Arias, shared the findings of an independent investigation into possible breaches of confidentiality. This investigation was initiated by the Director-General after the unauthorised release of a document in May 2019. This document purported to include information and findings related to the work of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) pertaining to the allegations of chemical weapons use on 7 April 2018 in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic.

The investigation took place between July 2019 and February 2020 and was conducted in strict compliance with the detailed procedures set forth in the OPCW Policy on Confidentiality (OPOC) as well as other relevant internal legislation such as the Code of Conduct for Staff Members of the Secretariat. The investigation included interviews with 29 witnesses, documents, electronic records, audio-recordings, and forensic analyses.

The report of the independent, external investigators determined that two former OPCW officials violated their obligations concerning the protection of confidential information related to the FFM Douma investigation. This determination is due to their unauthorised disclosure of highly protected information to individuals who did not have a need to know such information. The two former OPCW officials failed to comply with the specified procedures for the handling, protection, release, and dissemination of confidential information so as to create a clear risk of unauthorised disclosure. The findings of the investigators are included in the Report of the Investigation into Possible Breaches of Confidentiality. The two individuals are referred to in the report as Inspector A and Inspector B to protect their identities and safeguard their due process rights under the OPCW’s internal legislation and general principles of international administrative law.

With respect to Inspector A, he was not a member of the FFM. As described by the investigators, Inspector A played a minor supporting role in the investigation of the Douma incident, and he did not have access to all of the information gathered by the FFM team, including witness interviews, laboratory results, and analyses by independent experts. Although Inspector A’s assessment purports to be an official OPCW FFM report on the Douma incident, it is instead a personal document created with incomplete information and without authorisation.

With respect to Inspector B, after he was selected to be a member of the FFM for the first time, he travelled to Syria in April 2018. He never left the command post in Damascus because he had not completed the necessary training required to deploy on-site to Douma. Inspector B separated from the OPCW at the end of August 2018; however, he continued to approach staff members in an effort to have continued access to and influence over the Douma investigation. The majority of the FFM’s work occurred after Inspector B’s separation, and during the last seven months of the FFM’s investigation (August 2018 through February 2019).

The investigators concluded that “the deliberate and premeditated breaches of confidentiality committed by Inspectors A and B are considered to be serious”. The report identified several remedial measures to reduce the risk of future breaches of the OPCW’s confidentiality regime. These measures include, but are not limited to, enhanced confidentiality training for OPCW staff as well as an on-going review of the Organisation’s internal legislation.

During the briefing, the Director-General provided States Parties with further context for understanding developments related to this breach of confidentiality:

“Inspectors A and B are not whistle-blowers. They are individuals who could not accept that their views were not backed by evidence. When their views could not gain traction, they took matters into their own hands and breached their obligations to the Organisation. Their behaviour is even more egregious as they had manifestly incomplete information about the Douma investigation. Therefore, as could be expected, their conclusions are erroneous, uninformed, and wrong.”

After the issuance of the interim report on Douma in July 2018, it took an additional seven months for the FFM to further investigate the incident and conduct the bulk of its work. During this period, Inspector A no longer had any supporting role regarding the FFM; Inspector B was no longer employed by the OPCW as of late August 2018.

The Director-General reaffirmed his confidence in the conclusions of the final report of the FFM regarding the Douma incident and stated, “I stand by the conclusions of the final Douma report”.

The report of the Investigation into Possible Breaches of Confidentiality has been shared with all States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Background

The OPCW’s Policy on Confidentiality (OPOC) provides detailed procedures for investigations into possible breaches of confidentiality. The OPOC was approved and adopted by the Conference of the States Parties in 1997 and contains mandatory provisions for protecting confidential information and investigating any potential breaches as required under the Confidentiality Annex to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Under the secrecy agreement required by the OPOC, all staff are prohibited from using, disclosing, or disseminating confidential information to which they had access in the course of their employment, unless specifically authorised by the Director-General. Under the OPCW’s Code of Conduct, staff members must exercise the utmost discretion and confidentiality with regard to all matters of official business. These obligations remain in effect following separation from the Organisation.

As the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, the OPCW, with its 193 Member States, oversees the global endeavour to permanently eliminate chemical weapons. Since the Convention’s entry into force in 1997, it is the most successful disarmament treaty eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction.

Over 97% 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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