Supporting Victims of Chemical Weapons

The shadow cast by chemical weapons over modern history has claimed countless victims, both civilians and soldiers across the globe.

Just the mention of certain cities–Ieper, Halabja, Sardasht and Ghouta–evokes painful images of suffering and death. The OPCW honours the memory of the victims of these attacks through its mission to eliminate these weapons from the world. Our commitment to victims offers them hope that they will be the last to experience the horror of chemical warfare.

To secure a future without chemical weapons, we must protect, strengthen and extend the norm of their abhorrence enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention. The global norm against chemical weapons is not only a legal agreement, but also a moral declaration about the dignity of humanity.

At the same time, the OPCW recognises that survivors are not mere symbols of suffering. They are fellow humans who deserve our active support and assistance.

This is why the OPCW lends strong support to a number of endeavours that pay homage to the memory of the victims and to uphold the dignity of survivors.

Remembering All Victims of Chemical Warfare

The OPCW observes the annual Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare on 30 November.

During the ceremony–at which representatives of the victims’ associations participate as guests of honour–the OPCW Member States renew their resolve to achieve a world truly free of chemical weapons.

Ieper Declaration

Heeding the Lessons of History

In April 2015 the world commemorated the first large-scale use of chemical weapons in Ieper, Belgium — the event that marked the advent of a new kind of warfare that would to deprive millions of their lives and health.

Mindful of the lessons of history, OPCW Member States convened in Ieper and issued a declaration restating their commitment against chemical weapons.

The “Declaration on the Occasion of the Centennial Commemoration of the First Large-Scale Use of Chemical Weapons at Ieper” reaffirms the role of the Chemical Weapons Convention as a fortification against chemical weapons and condemns their use under any circumstances by anyone.

The Declaration also makes reference to holding accountable those responsible for the use of chemical weapons, and ensuring that non-State actors never obtain chemical weapons.

Support Network for Victims of Chemical Weapons

In 2011, the Conference of the States Parties established the International Support Network for Victims of Chemical Weapons and a voluntary trust fund for this purpose.

States Parties asked the OPCW Technical Secretariat to work more closely with victims’ associations and to provide information on its website about the history of the use of chemical weapons from a victim’s perspective. Presented are compelling testimonies from survivors of chemical warfare and links to resources.

Guide for Management of Chemical Warfare Casualties

In recognition of the importance of providing assistance to the victims of chemical weapons, the OPCW commissioned a manual for medical practitioners who care for the victims of chemical warfare.

The Practical Guidebook on the Medical Management of Chemical Casualties (2016, available in English, Arabic, and Turkish) has been funded from the trust fund.

The OPCW-The Hague Award Honours Victim Advocates

The OPCW-The Hague Award is part of the legacy from the OPCW’s 2013 Nobel Prize for Peace and it seeks to recognise individuals or institutions that have made exceptional contributions toward a world permanently free of chemical weapons.

In 2015, two eminent experts who dedicated their careers to caring and advocating for the victims of chemical weapons won The OPCW-The Hague Award.

The first awardee, Dr Mahdi Balali-Mood of Iran treated large numbers of patients who had been exposed to toxic agents during the Iran-Iraq war (1981-1988). In the aftermath of the conflict, he established a clinic for those suffering from the delayed and long-term effects of exposure to chemical warfare agents. Dr Balali-Mood was one of the contributors to the Practical Guidebook on the Medical Management of Chemical Casualties. 

The second awardee, Dr Alastair Hay of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has taken part in several missions to investigate and analyse samples following the use of toxic agents as weapons. His training courses for doctors and OPCW inspectors working in Syria have aided them the achieve a better understanding of the long-term health effects of exposure to chemical weapons and establishing more effective protocols for the treatment of victims.

Dr Hay donated his cash prize to the OPCW voluntary trust fund for victims of chemical weapons.

Memorials

The OPCW’s physical space incorporates tangible reminders about the victims of chemical weapons.

In the garden surrounding the Organisation’s Headquarters stands the Memorial to the Victims of Chemical Weapons. This statue is dedicated to the “memory of the victims of chemical weapons”. Depicted is a victim whose dying body transforms into doves of peace. This memorial was presented to the OPCW by the Government of Iran in 2012.

The nearby Halabja Memorial commemorates the victims of the chemical weapons attack that took place on 16 March 1988 on the town Halabja in Iraq. Many people lost their lives, among them women and children. Survivors have suffered severe long-term damage to their health. The memorial was presented to the OPCW by the Government of Iraq in 2014.

Outside the OPCW’s perimeter is a living monument consisting of a maple tree situated in a dune landscape with granite paving etched with a poem to chemical weapon victims. The memorial was unveiled in 1997 by Her Majesty Beatrix, The Queen of the Netherlands, on the occasion of the OPCW’s 10th anniversary.

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