OPCW pressured by US to issue biased report on Douma chemical attack

Summary

The OPCW issued a biased report on the alleged chemical attack in Douma under pressure from the US, which needed a pretext for conducting air strikes in Syria. The report, compiled by the organisation’s Fact-Finding Mission [FFM] and issued in March 2019, states there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that a toxic chemical was used as a weapon in Douma in April 2018.

The paper contains multiple gaps and inconsistencies, and dismisses vital evidence which Russian and Syrian officials supplied to the OPCW, including over a dozen witness accounts attesting that no chemical attack had taken place in Douma. The witnesses said they had been forced to appear in fake footage of the purported attack devised by the White Helmets, an aid group with links to terrorists.

The truth about Douma has yet to be established, despite continuous efforts by Moscow and Damascus to facilitate an objective investigation.

Disproof

This article is a part of an ongoing disinformation campaign surrounding the 2018 chemical attack in Douma, which claims that the incident was staged to demonise the Assad regime and Moscow’s role in the Syrian conflict.

The Kremlin began portraying the OPCW as an pawn in Western geopolitical designs around mid-2018, when the organisation was being granted new powers to assign blame for chemical attacks.

The FFM report on Douma clearly states the discovery of reactive chlorine and its derivatives in the affected area, at levels not naturally occurring in the local environment. The term “reasonable grounds” denotes a standard of proof routinely applied by the OPCW and several UN bodies (p. 3), and is based on available evidence as well as previous conduct of the suspected warring party.

Contrary to Moscow’s claim concerning the witnesses, their unverifiable testimony cannot be considered “very important information,” and thus the FFM report treats it as open-source material that may be used “for comparative purposes” (FFM report, p. 9), but not to formulate conclusions, in line with OPCW verification procedures (p. 24).

The probing of the alleged witnesses in The Hague was condemned by a number of governments as a publicity stunt, and raised concerns as to the veracity of their statements, as Moscow had ignored the OPCW’s request to interview the individuals first, and taking into account previous reports of witness intimidation by the Syrian government. Moreover, the footage of the attack shown at the OPCW briefing - which Moscow insisted had been fabricated by the White Helmets - had in fact been shot by a Syrian opposition group.

The truth about Douma is being continuously established through reporting, fieldwork, and expert investigations. Russia, however, has done much more to obstruct than to facilitate the process. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Russian military police denied OPCW inspectors access to the area citing “lack of coordination” with the UN Secretariat, a claim which prompted concerns over possible evidence-tampering and was later refuted by the UN. Meanwhile, admission was quickly granted to friendly journalists.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011, Russia has vetoed a dozen UN Security Council resolutions concerning Syria, of which six called for the launch or renewing of joint enquiries into chemical attacks in the country.

publication/media

  • Reported in: Issue 141
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 12/03/2019
  • Language/target audience: English
  • Country: Russia, US, Syria
  • Keywords: OPCW, Chemical weapons/attack, Syrian War
  • Outlet: RT (rt.com)
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