About the OPCW and Libya

The recent crisis in Libya has highlighted the role of the OPCW in eliminating the world’s stockpiles of chemical weapons.

When Libya joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to become an OPCW Member State in January 2004, the then-government of Libya declared possession of about 25 metric tonnes of a blistering agent, sulfur mustard, and over 3,500 chemical munitions in the form of unfilled aerial bombs. It also declared nearly 1,400 metric tonnes of precursor chemicals that could produce more lethal weapons like the nerve agent sarin, as well as three chemical weapons production facilities.

The OPCW immediately verified the accuracy of the declaration with on-site inspections and has verified all of Libya’s subsequent destruction activities. The entire arsenal of aerial bombs was crushed with bulldozers in March 2004, eliminating Libya’s capacity to weaponise its sulfur mustard. In due course, two of the former chemical weapons production facilities were demolished down to their foundations, and with the OPCW’s approval the third facility was converted into a pharmaceuticals plant. With these actions the Libyan government gave up its ability to manufacture warfare agents from the precursor chemicals.

Operations to destroy the sulfur mustard finally got underway in October 2010. Over the next four months Libya neutralized nearly 55% of its stockpile and was potentially on track to meet the 15 May 2011 deadline set by the OPCW to finish the job. Unfortunately, a heating component of the neutralization unit malfunctioned in early February of this year and its operations had to be suspended. The OPCW recalled its on-site inspectors to headquarters in The Hague until destruction activities could resume.

These developments coincided with the eruption of protests against the Qaddafi government. Due to the mounting crisis and the imposition of sanctions against the regime, the spare part needed to repair the destruction facility could not be delivered. The OPCW subsequently moved the destruction deadline to 29 April 2012, the maximum allowable under the Convention.

The remaining stocks should be destroyed under the verification of OPCW inspectors as soon as circumstances permit, and steps have been taken in that direction. On 16 September 2011, the United Nations formally recognised the new government in Tripoli as the legitimate authority of Libya, which assumed Libya’s obligations under the CWC to complete destruction of the remaining stockpiles.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat is now engaged in regular consultations with the Libyan government and other Member States to enable the return of OPCW inspectors to examine conditions at the storage depot and verify destruction operations when they recommence. Further updates on the Organisation’s activities in Libya will be posted on this webpage as they develop.

Libya: Facts and Figures

As a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Libya is obligated to declare all chemical weapons and associated production facilities that it possesses to the OPCW. Upon joining the Convention in January 2004 Libya, declared the possession of the following materials and capabilities , which were verified by OPCW inspections:

  • 24.7 metric tonnes (MT) of sulfur mustard
  • 1,390 MT of precursor chemicals
  • 3,563 unloaded chemical weapons munitions (aerial bombs)
  • 3 former chemical weapons production facilities. 

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