Alleged chemical weapons use by Turkey

On 12 August, Der Spiegel and Die Tageszeitung reported on allegations that Turkey had used chemical weapons against members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The claims were based on photographs showing bodies of eight PKK members. The photographs had been handed over to a delegation of the German Left Party by Turkish-Kurdish human rights activists. A German expert in photo forgeries confirmed the photos were authentic and the Hamburg University Hospital stated that it was highly probable that the eight members had died due to the use of chemical weapons. With this evidence at hand, German politicians made calls for an investigation of the alleged use. They were joined by parliamentarians from the Netherlands, which hosts the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body tasked with the implementation of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The next day, however, the Hamburg University Hospital published an errata stating that ‘the assessment of the doctors does not support the accusation that the deaths have been caused by chemical weapons in any way. No clear statement on the cause and time of the injuries can be made.’ The Turkish authorities also denied the reports: ‘The allegations that our country might have used chemical weapons do not represent the truth in any way. Our country, which has been a state party to the CWC since 1997, does not produce, possess or use chemical weapons,’ the spokesperson of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs informed the parliament that due to the errata notification he did not see any reason to investigate the matter further. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs did not taken action either.

In this case, then, the need to proceed with formal verification procedures diminished. However, in future instances where verification is required of the alleged use of chemical weapons in a country, there are several options available. The state in question could start its own investigation or invite or accept offers for a collaborative investigation from interested states, a regional organization, or a relevant international organization such as the UN Secretary General’s mechanism for examining alleged chemical (or biological) weapons use. This mechanism was recently updated so that the OPCW can now be involved in its procedures. Any state party to the CWC could also choose to initiate the Convention’s various compliance mechanisms, including the relatively innocuous ‘clarification’ and more politically-charged ‘challenge inspection’ procedures under the Article IX ‘Consultation, Cooperation and Fact-Finding’ provision. To date, however, the ‘challenge inspection’ procedure has never been used.

Yasemin Balci, London.