On Monday, May 28, Syria is due to assume the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament, a non-governmental organization which, among other achievements, was instrumental in the promulgation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms-control treaty that prohibits the use, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons.
The presidency is rotated among its 65 members, and now it is Syria’s turn to take charge. Syria will hold it for four weeks, until June 24.
This is an astonishing, unacceptable and surreal development, considering the fact that Syria has deployed chemical weapons against its own civilians during the ongoing civil war. Syria’s deployment of such prohibited weapons of mass destruction is nothing less than a war crime and a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Yet Syria now stands on the cusp of taking over the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament.
The secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has expressed the hope that Syria’s presidency will not have a “negative impact” on the Conference on Disarmament.” But common sense leaves only one conclusion. As Robert Wood, the U.S. diplomat accredited to the Conference on Disarmament, correctly said, Syria’s presidency would be one of the darkest days in its history.
Hillel Neuer, the executive director of United Nations Watch, a non-governmental organization based in Geneva, was also right when he observed, “Having the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad preside over global chemical … weapons disarmament will be like putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter.”
Guterres himself, who recently called for “steps to end and prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical weapons,” must surely realize that Syria’s presidency, however short in duration, would be a travesty.
As he pointed out, a UN fact-finding mission, having examined 83 incidents involving the use of chemical weapons in Syria, concluded that that they had more than likely been used in 14 separate instances. “Each use is a crime under international law,” he said.
Since 2013, Syrian forces loyal to Assad have carried out a succession of chemical weapons attacks. The most recent one took place last month in the Damascus suburb of Douma, prompting the United States, Britain and France to bomb Syrian military sites.
It should be clear by now that Assad will do anything and everything to preserve his position of power and strengthen his brutal regime. In lashing out at his opponents, he has reduced towns and cities to rubble, killed and starved innocent civilians, and displaced much of his population.
In plain English, he has virtually destroyed Syria, a once-thriving nation.
It would be absolutely absurd and obscene if the Conference on Disarmament allows Syria to take up its presidency tomorrow.