On June 23, officials announced that the final 8 percent of chemical weapons were removed from Syria. The landmark announcement marked the final shipment of Syria’s 1,300 ton stockpile of weapons, which included mustard gas and raw materials that could be used to create the sarin nerve gas.

The removal of this last shipment of chemical weapons finally arrived after multiple missed deadlines that were originally set by the U.N. The most recent ones were at the end of February and the June 30 deadline to have all of the weapons destroyed. In February of this year the international watchdog group, called the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said that Syria had only shipped out 11 percent of their chemical stockpile. Many of these delays were largely thanks to the threats and actual attacks from both rebel groups and pro-Assad militias.

While this achievement certainly is a step in the right direction, many questions still remain about how many chemical bombs are still in Syria outside of those that were officially declared by the Assad regime. Ahmet Uzumcu, chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said, “We cannot say for sure it has no more chemical weapons. All we can do is work on the basis of verifying a country’s declarations of what they have. I would not make any speculation to possible remaining assets, substances, chemical weapons…”

After departing Syria, the chemicals will be shipped out to Norway and Denmark via Italy, where they will then be destroyed off the coasts of the UK and Scandinavia in international waters.

There still is an ongoing investigation into President Assad’s use of chlorine, which Ahmet Uzumcu said “may take a little more time.” While chlorine is not lethal and excluded from the list of prohibited toxic chemicals thanks to its widespread commercial use, the gas can still cause a considerable amount of harm and negative health effects. The use of chlorine as a weapon would also violate many international laws and conventions that Assad has previously signed.

Even though the removal of this many chemical weapons will help the situation, the civil war in Syria still continues unabated and with drastic human rights consequences. According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, “We are always going to remain truly appalled at the level of death and destruction that continues to consume Syria, notwithstanding the removal of these weapons.” His words come at a time when 2.5 million people are denied water by opposition groups, 90,000 people lack medical assistance and nearly half of Syria’s population of 22 million have been displaced. While the removal of chemical weapons helps, violence throughout the country sill rages on.

— Andre Gobbo 

Sources: BBC, Huffington Post, CNN, The Borgen Project (1), The Borgen Project (2)
Photo: Press TV