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World must act to stop use of chemical weapons

Friday, June 22, 2018, 14:17 GMT+7

Editor’s note: Stephen Lysaght, British Charge d’Affaires in Vietnam, calls on the world to act to stop the use of chemical weapons in this piece sent to Tuoi Tre News, prior to the Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on June 26-28.

Politicians shake hands and smile. Cameras click. Papers are signed and stamped. The world’s press reports the signing of another international agreement.

International summits, conventions and treaties may seem far removed from the lives of everyday people; photo opportunities rather than milestones.

But these are how we agree the type of world we want to live in. They are the promises we keep to each other. Our commitments and their implementation underpin the international system and keep us safe. When agreements are broken, or allowed to fall into irrelevance, the consequences become very real for everyone.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is one of these, but there are worrying signs we have forgotten why we worked so hard to achieve this vital agreement.

Chemical weapons asphyxiate, choke, blister and poison. Where not lethal, their effects can last a lifetime. During the twentieth century they were used on and off the battlefield with horrific consequence.

During the First World War, more than 90,000 soldiers suffered painful deaths following the use of chlorine, mustard and other chemical agents. Almost a million more were blinded, disfigured or received debilitating injuries.

Chemical weapons were also used with devastating consequences in Morocco, Yemen, China and Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). The aftermath of their deployment in the 1980s Iran-Iraq War continues to be felt today, with 30,000 Iranians still suffering and dying from the effects of the agents used in the conflict.

The people of Vietnam understand this all too well.

I was reminded of this in a most powerful and poignant way when I attended the 9th EU-Vietnam documentary film festival last week which showed a short film called “Aspiration for life” (Khát vọng sống) explained how families in Vietnam are still suffering the effects of the use of dioxins.

Anyone seeing that film would understand why we must never allow history to repeat itself.

Stephen Lysaght, British Charge d’Affaires in Vietnam
Stephen Lysaght, British Charge d’Affaires in Vietnam

The Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997, and brought the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into existence. For the first time, the world had an independent, non-political body to investigate chemical weapons use.  

192 countries, including Vietnam, have now ratified the Convention and are States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Just over 20 years on from this watershed moment, and five years after the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its extraordinary achievements, this agreement and these norms are under threat. 

The repeated use of chemical weapons represents a grave threat to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the rules-based international order that keeps us all safe. It must now be protected and strengthened.

On May 29, the UK and ten other states have launched a call for all the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to come together.

Answering the call for the UK and ten other states, the OPCW announced that the signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention will come together in The Hague on June 26-28.

We are calling on states around the world to join together to find ways to strengthen and protect this cornerstone of the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime.

We hope as many countries as possible will support these efforts to strengthen the Chemical Weapons Conventions and other international agreements against the use of chemical weapons.

This is not a meeting as an arena for some kind of global confrontation where states will be forced to take sides. Rather this is a choice between the rule of law and international rules based system versus anarchy and the sickening prospect that we and our children might see chemical weapons become normalised. Many years of hard work and success are at risk if we do not take enough action.

Twenty years ago, the creation of the Chemical Weapons Convention marked a turning point in global politics. The world drew a line in the sand, and agreed that any use of chemical weapons is unjustified and abhorrent. We must now act to stop it.

Stephen Lysaght

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