Dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons has been a significant achievement for the international community stressed OPCW Director-General Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü in his speech during the Second Annual Justice Breyer Lecture at the Brookings Institution yesterday. “The very action to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons program is an indication that consensus can be reached even in the midst of an intractable conflict”, he observed.
The Justice Breyer Lecture on International Law is an initiative of The Brookings Institution and The Hague Institute for Global Justice, with the support of the Embassy of Netherlands in the United States. For the second year, Hague Institute President Dr. Abi Williams led the discussion which this year centered on the elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal over the past two years and the attendant consequences for peace, security and accountability. Director General Üzümcü was joined in the moderated panel by former US Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mallory Stewart.
OPCW Director General Üzümcü announced that 98 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons have been destroyed in the OPCW-UN Joint Mission. He reiterated his view that the Chemical Weapons Convention has been “the most effective treaty in the history of multilateral disarmament”. With due regard to the threat posed by terrorism and the legal and political obstacles which the OPCW faced in the Syria intervention, the Director-General drew attention to the lessons learned from this experience.
Seizing a narrow window of opportunity to intervene in the complex arms control situation was a key initial success, which created space for further action, pointed out Ambassador Üzümcü. “A second lesson gleaned from the Syria experience speaks to the inviolability of international law and multilateral approaches to disarmament.” These conclusions drew questions from an expert audience regarding the leadership of OPCW in the 2013-2014 mission, the success of the Chemical Weapons Convention as a multilateral instrument and the particular implications of the Syrian intervention for international law. Dr. Abi Williams further brought up the question of objectivity when cooperating with armed actors in a conflict and the role of the OPCW-initiated fact-finding missions in determining accountability.
Dr. Williams and Director-General Üzümcü continued the discussions on Thursday evening during a plenary panel held a the Annual Meeting of the American Society for International Law (ASIL). The session was part of an ongoing collaboration between The Hague Institute for Global Justice, ASIL, the Embassy of the Netherlands and the City of The Hague. The aim of the partnership is to highlight the role of The Hague-based institutions on the world stage. Questions posed by participants ranged from the international legal and political dimensions of OPCW’s efforts to rid Syria of chemical weapons to how the awarding of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to the OPCW has advanced the work of this international convention implementing organization.