We are honouring tonight one of the most significant achievements in the field of disarmament: The establishment, 20 years ago, of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
It took more than eight decades, and the lives of millions of people, whether in the battlefields or amongst innocent civilians, for the international community to finally reach an agreement on their prohibition; and still we are witnessing that this scourge has not been completely eliminated.
I would like to extend a warm welcome, in particular to the Director of the Verification Division of the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Mr Philippe Denier and through him, our appreciation to the Organisation’s Director General and my good friend, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, as well as to the entire personnel of the OPCW Technical Secretariat, for their commitment and remarkable achievements in the past 20 years.
It would also be an omission if I did not thank the Mayor of Nicosia, Mr Constantinos Yiorkadjis, for his hospitality.
There have been many events around the globe to mark the adoption of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and deservedly so.
After the horrific wars of the twentieth century, in which chemical weapons were widely used, the world had at last a legally binding instrument for eliminating an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.
And indeed, what the OPCW has accomplished is impressive. In a relatively short time, the Organization and its member states have achieved in coming closer to a world free of chemical weapons.
I had the privilege to be the first Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the OPCW, when we joined it in 1998. Those of us who witnessed the beginnings of this Organization are aware of the fact that hard work and collective commitment were keys to its success.
One may think that I am exaggerating OPCW’s efficiency since they are our guests and in the true spirit of Cypriot hospitality I want to gratify them. I will let the figures speak for themselves:
- Approximately 95% of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been destroyed,
- 192 countries have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, and
- Only four UN member states have not joined the OPCW, making the Chemical Weapons Convention one of the most successful disarmament Conventions.
The accomplishments of the OPCW were duly recognized by the international community in 2013, when it was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”.
We have, therefore, every reason to celebrate the 20 years of the OPCW, but at the same time we cannot afford to pat ourselves on the back, thinking all is well.
Our vision of a world free of chemical weapons continues to face major challenges. The use of chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq is particularly alarming.
In Syria, we repeatedly witnessed confirmed chemical weapon attacks. The abhorrent use of sarin in Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017, killing and injuring civilians, including children and relief workers, underlines the urgency of the work that lies ahead of us.
The work of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission and the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism is crucial for holding accountable those responsible for these heinous crimes.
Cyprus, being a member state of the OPCW since 1998, consistently endeavours through its foreign and security policy to promote the goals of total prohibition and elimination of chemical weapons.
Its practical support to the Organization was reaffirmed by the contribution to the work of the Joint Mission of the Organization and the United Nations on the elimination of the Syrian chemical arsenal.
Cyprus served as the host country of the support base of the Joint Mission, and offered its infrastructure and facilities to other states, which participated in the operation.
More recently, we have also made a symbolic voluntary contribution for the destruction of Libya’s remaining chemical stockpiles.
Moreover, as a European Union member state, Cyprus contributes actively, through the long standing EU support for core OPCW activities and operations related, inter alia, to national implementation, chemical safety and security and international cooperation.
This event, which is the 4th OPCW event hosted in Cyprus, serves as an additional demonstration of our unwavering support and appreciation to the work of the OPCW.
I am particularly happy that we host this anniversary event during the 2017 EURACHEM week. I take this opportunity to thank the Pancyprian Union of Chemists for including this event in the framework of the EURACHEM Week.
You, the delegates to the EURACHEM Week, are the first actors, who use the science of chemistry for the benefit of humanity, according to the ethical guidelines of the Organization.
We need your valuable support and action to help materialize the goal of a world completely free of chemical weapons, as envisioned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The cooperation of the OPCW with the scientific community and chemical practitioners is indispensable.
Considering, in particular, the increasing terrorist threat, the involvement of chemical practitioners in the full implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention at the national level becomes more crucial.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In concluding, I would like to thank all of you for your participation. Your presence shows the society’s decisiveness to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and honours the memory of the victims of chemical weapons worldwide.
Finally, a word of appreciation to the OPCW Technical Secretariat and its staff and my team in The Hague and Nicosia, Ambassador Economou in particular, for making tonight’s event possible.
Thank you for your attention.