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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 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 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, including as a member of its decision-making body the Executive Council (our current term runs until May 2022).

Australia strongly supported the work of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on Syria (2015-2017), which confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in Syria on at least four occasions. Australia also supports the work of the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) that identifies and reports on all information potentially relevant to the origin of those chemical weapons.

Australia is a founding partner of the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. The partnership was established in 2018 to collect and preserve information to assist in holding accountable those responsible for the proliferation or use of chemical weapons.

Australia's role as Chair of the Australia Group (AG) further strengthens the effective implementation of the CWC in our region and beyond. At its June 2018 Plenary meeting, the AG released a public statement expressing Participants' deep concern at the re-emergence of chemical weapons use and the challenge this poses to the norms established under the CWC. In February 2020, AG Participants agreed to add Novichok nerve agent precursors to the AG control list of chemical weapons precursors.

The risk of chemical weapons use reinforces the importance of ensuring the international community 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. Anybody using, enabling or shielding those who use chemical weapons must be brought to justice.

Australia has recently contributed to several significant international decisions in support of this goal:

  • In June 2018, the CWC Conference of States Parties (CSP) agreed that the OPCW take on an attribution role for chemical weapons use in Syria, resulting in the establishment of the IIT.
  • The IIT’s investigations began in June 2019 and two reports have since been released – April 2020 and April 2021 – confirming the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
  • As a result, at the April 2021 CSP Australia joined 86 other states who voted to suspend the rights of Syria under the CWC in response to Syria’s breach of the Convention.
  • In March 2021, the  OPCW Executive Council agreed a decision on the control of the use of central nervous system-acting chemicals (CNSACs) for law enforcement.
  • At the April 2021 CSP, Australia joined numerous other nations to deliver a statement condemning the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon against Russian national, Alexei Navalny in August 2020. The statement urged the Russian Federation, on whose territory the incident took place, to disclose the circumstances of the attack.
  • This follows Australia’s support for the November 2019 CSP decision to add Novichok nerve agents to the list of Schedule 1 chemicals under the CWC. Novichok was identified by the UK Government as the chemical used in the March 2018 attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.

 

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