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Chemical weapons

Chemical weapons

Australia consistently and strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances. Australia's commitment to the eradication of chemical weapons is founded in the memory of the many Australian casualties of chemical weapons used on the battlefields of Europe in the First World War.

Australia acceded to the Geneva Protocol in 1930, and was instrumental in negotiating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Australia was an original signatory to the CWC on 13 January 1993, and was among the first nations to ratify it in 1994. The Convention entered into force in 1997. Australia has a long history of supporting the full and effective implementation of the CWC, including actively working towards the goal of achieving universal adherence.

Australia strongly supported the thorough, impartial and expert work of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on Syria throughout its years of operation (2015-2017), which confirmed that chemical weapons had been used by the Syrian regime on at least four occasions, and at least twice by ISIL.

Australia has consistently and vigorously supported the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in confronting the challenges of chemical weapons. We work closely with the OPCW in The Hague, including as a member of its decision-making body the Executive Council (our most recent term was May 2016 – 10 May 2018).

Australia is a founding partner of the France-initiated International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, which we joined in January 2018. The partnership was established to collect and preserve information to help hold publicly accountable those responsible for the proliferation or use of chemical weapons.

Australia's role as Chair of the Australia Group further strengthens the effective implementation of the CWC in our region and beyond. At its 4-8 June 2018 Plenary meeting, the Australia Group released a public statement expressing the participants' deep concern at the re-emergence of chemical weapons use and the challenge this poses to the norms established under the CWC.

The use of chemical weapons in Iraq, Syria, Malaysia and the United Kingdom has reinforced the importance of ensuring the international community as a whole remains committed to the eradication of these abhorrent weapons. Australia views any proliferation of chemical weapons as a serious threat to global and regional peace and security, and we strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons under any circumstance. Anybody using, enabling or shielding those who use chemical weapons must be brought to justice.

Australia has recently contributed to a number of international activities in support of this goal:

  • On 19-20 November 2018 at the CWC Conference of States Parties, Australia, along with likeminded States Parties, successfully advocated for an increase in the OPCW's budget to fund a capability to investigate and attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and more broadly.
  • On 6 September 2018, in response to the outcome of the UK police investigation into the Salisbury nerve agent attack, Australia's then Prime Minister and Foreign Minister released a joint statement making clear that Australia shared British anger and outrage, and was in lock-step with the UK Government and other partners on the importance of holding Russia to account. The Australian Government had taken swift and robust action in response to the 4 March 2018 nerve agent attack in the UK, expelling two Russian diplomats for actions inconsistent with their status.
  • At the June 2018 Special Session of the CWC Conference of States Parties Australia and likeminded States Parties successfully advocated for the OPCW to take on an attribution role for chemical weapons use in Syria, and to develop a universal attribution capability. This was a democratic outcome where all State Parties could express their views and no one State Party could use a veto to block the discussion.
  • On 24 August 2017 Australia announced the sanctioning of individuals and entities linked to the Syrian regime's chemical weapons program.
Last Updated: 31 January 2019
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