Trying to rid the world of chemical weapons

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Syria, which stands accused of using poisonous chemicals against civilians, is one of just five countries that have not signed a global treaty banning chemical weapons.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is aimed at ridding the world of such arms, first used in combat in World War I, and also in 1988 against civilians in Halabja, Iraq.

The UN Security Council is seeking "clarity" on a suspected chemical weapons strike near Damascus on Wednesday that rebels say killed as many as 1,300 people, but confirmation depends on experts gaining access to the area.

Meanwhile, here are facts about the Convention.

The CWC has four main provisions, the destruction of all chemical weapons under strict verification, monitoring of the chemical industry to prevent development, helping protect nations against chemical threats and boosting global cooperation to strengthen implementation.

"It is the first multilateral treaty to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction and to provide for the international verification of the destruction of these weapons," according to the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees its implementation.

It contains no specific punitive measures for countries that use chemical weapons however.

The document says only that the OPCW can "in cases of particular gravity, bring the issue, including relevant information and conclusions, to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council."

Under the convention, ratifying countries commit to destroying their weapons stockpiles within 10 years, though some have obtained delays.

The United States is aiming for 2023, while Russia has set a deadline of December 2015 although the deadlines are not set in stone, according to an OPCW official.

The CWC allows experts to conduct inspections at short notice at military, civilian and industrial sites where sensitive listed chemicals are used.

Signing of the Convention began in 1993 and it took effect on April 29, 1997.

It was the result of almost 20 years of negotiations within the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, and initially aimed to eliminate all chemical weapons by 2007.

A precursor was the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which banned the use of chemical weapons following widespread use in World War I, but not their development under a "no first use" notion.

The OPCW currently has 189 so-called States Parties, including nearly all industrialised nations. Somalia became the 189th country in which the convention entered into force on June 28 this year.

Israel and Myanmar have signed the Convention but not ratified it, while Angola, Egypt, North Korea, South Sudan and Syria have done neither.

© 2013 AFP

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