Syrian chemical weapons use not up to UN standard

April 27, 2013 | By | Reply More

April 27, AP – Weapons inspectors will only determine whether banned chemical agents were used in the two-year-old conflict if they are able to access sites and take soil, blood, urine or tissue samples and examine them in certified laboratories, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works with the United Nations on inspections.

human rights observers syrian chemical weapons use not upto un standart

Assertions of chemical weapon use in Syria by Western and Israeli officials citing photos, sporadic shelling and traces of toxins do not meet the standard of proof needed for a UN team of experts waiting to gather their own field evidence.

That type of evidence, needed to show definitively if banned chemicals were found, has not been presented by governments and intelligence agencies accusing Syria of using chemical weapons against insurgents.

“This is the only basis on which the OPCW would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons have been used,” said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based OPCW.

With Syria blocking the UN mission, it is unlikely they will gain that type of access any time soon.

The head of the UN inspection mission, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, will meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday.

The United Nations wrote to the Syrian government again on Thursday to push for unconditional and unfettered access for the UN investigators, Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Friday.

“The Secretary-General urges the Syrian government to respond swiftly and favourably so that this mission can carry out its work in Syria,” Nesirky said. “You need to be able to go into Syria to be able to do that investigation properly.”

“In the meantime the members of that team have been collating and analyzing the evidence and information that is available to date from outside,” he said, adding that there was a concern “about the degradation of evidence” within Syria.

The White House on Thursday said the US intelligence community has assessed with varying degrees of confidence that the chemical agent sarin was used by forces allied with President Bashar Al Assad. But it noted that “the chain of custody is not clear.”

Questions around ‘physiological’ samples

The Israeli military this week suggested Syrian forces used sarin and showed reporters pictures of a body with symptoms indicating the nerve gas was the cause of death.

Ralf Trapp, an independent consultant on chemical and biological weapons control, said, “There is a limit to what you can extract from photograph evidence alone. What you really need is to get information from on the ground, to gather physical evidence and to talk to witnesses as well as medical staff who treated victims.”

Sarin is a fast-acting nerve agent that was originally developed in 1938 in Germany as a pesticide. It is a clear, colorless, tasteless and odorless liquid that can evaporate quickly into a gas and spread into the environment, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because it evaporates so quickly, sarin presents an immediate but short-lived threat.

Sean Kaufman of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research at Emory University, a former biodefense expert for the CDC, said people who have been exposed to sarin most typically die or recover fully. Testing for sarin, he said, requires access to the environment where the nerve agent was used or the clothing of someone who was exposed.

The White House, which has called the use of chemicals weapons in Syria a “red line” for possible military intervention, said its assessment was partly based on “physiological” samples. But a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity declined to detail the evidence. It is unclear who supplied it.

Even if samples were made available to the OPCW by those making the assertions, the organisation could not use them.

Associated press journalist for human rights observers – Khizer Hayat reports from the region.

 

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Category: Arab uprising

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