White Phosphorous Use in Northern Syria – Should The OPCW Investigate?
At Bellingcat, we believe in holding the powerful to account for their actions. We recognise that in order to do that, analysis of contentious issues such as conflicts must be conducted in an accurate manner. We also know that in order to ensure accountability, we need to understand who investigates what kind of incidents.
In an editorial published on Monday, The Times of London implied that the OPCW chose not to investigate the use of White Phosphorus (WP) due to political expediency: “The suspicion is that the OPCW’s reluctance to investigate reflects western hesitancy to embarrass a Nato member at a time when relations with Turkey are strained.”
This editorial also referred to White Phosphorus as a “banned chemical weapon”. Other Times articles have also referred to these attacks as “chemical attacks.”
The contents of these articles, the headlines, and the decision to criticise the OPCW show that there appears to be a misunderstanding not only the role of the OPCW, but also the nature of White Phosphorus as well as the Chemical Weapons Convention itself.
This confusion will not only result in spurious attacks against the OPCW, but will also likely take energy away from identifying and holding to account those who have used WP in a manner that may have breached International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
White Phosphorus And Its Uses
The Times editorial refers to White Phosphorus in its sub-heading as a “banned chemical weapon”. However, White Phosphorus is neither banned, nor does it appear to have been used as a chemical weapon.
White Phosphorus burns when exposed to air, producing a large amount of smoke. As such, it is frequently used by militaries around the world for its smoke producing properties to obscure or mark targets. However, it also burns at extremely high temperatures, and as such …read more