Allegations of chemical weapons use

Der Spiegel has reported allegations by human rights advocates of chemical weapons use by the Turkish military against members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), resulting in the deaths of eight PKK members, in September 2009. Turkish authorities have denied the allegations and maintain that Turkey does not possess biological or chemical weapons, in accordance with their commitments under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Yet the accusations are deemed credible—photographs that appear to show fatal injuries consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals are considered genuine and some German politicians have been moved to call for Turkey to investigate the matter further.

What options are available to verify this alleged CW use? Turkey may choose to initiate a national investigation, although the reliability of any independently-derived outcome may be open to question. Turkey may choose to invite or accept offers from interested States, a regional organization or a relevant international organization of a collaborative investigation. Factors influencing the international community’s trust in the result of such an investigation include the perceived impartiality and reliability of the other States or organizations cooperating on the investigation, and the level of access they are afforded to relevant evidence, particularly through on-site activities. The United Nations Secretary-General’s mechanism for examining alleged chemical (or biological) weapons use could be invoked (to investigate potential threats to international peace and security to bring to the attention of the UN Security Council), with the results of a thorough enquiry perhaps more trusted and politically acceptable over any nationally-conducted investigation, but Turkey’s co-operation is necessary for any in-country activities to be conducted. This mechanism was recently updated to provide for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to be involved in this informal procedure for investigating alleged CW use. The OPCW’s involvement would lend helpful expertise and credibility to any such informal investigation.

Any State Party to the CWC could choose to initiate the Convention’s various compliance mechanisms, including the relatively innocuous ‘clarification’ and more politically-charged (and to date unused) ‘challenge inspection’ procedures under the Article IX ‘Consultation, Cooperation and Fact-Finding’ provision, although any ‘challenge’ verification activity is extremely unlikely. A speedy and satisfactory resolution of this allegation is desirable to uphold the credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Source: Turkey accused of using chemical weapons against PKK, Spiegel Online, 12 August 2010,