DISINFO: Under pressure, OPCW fails to assign blame for Ghouta chemical attack
  • Outlet: RT English (archived)*
  • Date of publication: August 21, 2019
  • Outlet language(s): English
  • Reported in: Issue 162
  • Countries / regions discussed: Syria, Russia
OPCW Propaganda Chemical weapons/attack Syrian War

DISINFO: Under pressure, OPCW fails to assign blame for Ghouta chemical attack


Although many were quick to blame the Assad government for the 2013 chemical attack on Ghouta, questions remain as to who launched the sarin projectiles which killed hundreds of civilians. The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) has been tasked to do precisely that, but it has been unsuccessful.

The big question is to what extent the OPCW and the UN have been subjected to external pressure to generate particular findings. It seems that the mission which was established to find out who bears the blame for chemical attacks is quite selective as to which facts to look for.


The report advances recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives attempting to acquit the Assad regime of all responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria, and casting doubt on the integrity and independence of the OPCW.

It is true that responsibility for the August 2013 Ghouta attack is yet to be assigned. However, the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission was never meant to either gather evidence pertaining to the attack or apportion blame for it, in large part because the FFM would not exist for another eight months. It was set up on 29 April 2014, was granted a field mandate covering the period between 3 and 31 May 2014, and produced its first summary report on 16 June 2014. Even if the OPCW had been in charge of the probe, it would not have been able to identify the culprits - the organization was only granted the authority to do so in June 2018.

Moreover, the FFM mission was not established to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks, but to "identify facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic”. Assigning blame was originally the responsibility of the UNSC Joint Investigative Mechanism, before its mandate expired in late 2017. In April 2018, Russia vetoed the Security Council resolution to extend its mandate.

The Ghouta attack was investigated by a UN Mission set up by the UN Secretary General, and its findings were contained in a report published in September 2013. The OPCW and the WHO played an important but auxiliary role throughout the process (ibid., p. 4).

The charge that both the OPCW and the UN are subject to "external pressure" is made without evidence. The fact that the statement is framed as "the big question" and left unsupported by facts betrays its real function - to confuse, rather than inform. See here for our list of resources on pro-Kremlin disinformation techniques.


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