The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is an international agency, located in The Hague, The Netherlands. The Organization is not an agency of the United Nations. It was established on the basis of the Chemical Weapons Convention: a convention that has no direct relationship with the United Nations. Its mission is to promote membership of the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty which entered into force in 1997 and mandated the elimination of “the scourge of chemical weapons forever and to verify the destruction of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles within stipulated deadlines.” It organizes inspection procedures to verify compliance with the treaty, and provides technical support to countries who have inherited a legacy of chemical weapons stockpiles from previous governments.
The OPCW was created in 1997 as the CWC entered into force. It is run on a day-to-day basis by a secretariat of over 500 people and also has an executive council that meets on a regular basis and a Conference of the States Parties, made up of all members, that meets annually. The Conference of the States Parties will hold review conferences every five years on the implementation of the CWC.
The OPCW works to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in four main ways:
1) Oversight of the destruction of stockpiles of chemical weapons and the destruction or conversion to peaceful purposes of production facilities and munitions.
2) Carrying out inspections to verify states’ declarations about what has been destroyed and the activities of their chemical industries. It also carries out inspections where allegations of non-compliance have been made against a member state or where use of chemical weapons is suspected.
3) Ensuring non-proliferation of chemical weapons through oversight of international trade in restricted chemicals and the pursuit of universal membership of the CWC, while encouraging exchange of equipment, technology and knowledge for peaceful purposes.
4) Provision of assistance to member states on preventing and dealing with the aftermath of chemical attacks.
In order to do this, the OPCW receives analyses and verifies states’ declarations concerning destruction of weapons, activities of their chemical industry and trade in restricted chemicals. It also runs seminars, workshops and training programmes on the CWC, the chemical industry and on coping with chemical attacks. The OPCW can also help states to implement the national legislation required by the CWC.
Progressing towards its goal of universality of the CWC the OPCW has increased the membership of its states. The organization carries out inspections and overseen the destruction of nearly 10 per cent of the world’s stockpile.
The states that have ratified the CWC are members of the OPCW. Since 1997 the OPCW has made progress towards achieving all of its main aims. The First Review Conference of the organization took place in April/May 2003.