Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – UPSC Notes

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is an international organisation established as an implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). CWC is an international treaty, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, or transfer of chemical weapons by signatory States. The Organisation, having its headquarter in The Hague (Netherlands), was awarded the 2013 “Nobel Peace Prize” for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.

Overview – OPCW

Formation29 April 1997
HeadquartersThe Hague, Netherlands
Membership193 Member States (all States Party to the CWC are automatically Members)
Official languageArabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish

Background – OPCW

On 3 September 1992, the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) submitted its annual report to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which also included the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The UNGA approved this Convention on 30 November 1992 and opened it for signature until it came into force on 29 April 1997.

CWC was the world’s first multilateral disarmament agreement to provide the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction within a fixed time frame.

After the CWC entered into force, the OPCW was formed on 29 April 1997 to implement the provisions under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

OPCW oversees the global endeavour of permanent and verifiable elimination of chemical weapons. The Organisation promotes, administers, and verifies adherence to the CWC, which prohibits the usage of chemical weapons and requires their destruction. Verification comprises the evaluation of declarations by the Member States and on-site inspections.

On 11 October 2013, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to OPCW.

In 2014, “The OPCW – The Hague Award” was established to honour select individuals and institutions by highlighting their exceptional contributions towards the goal of a world permanently free of chemical weapons. This Award was created as a legacy of the OPCW winning the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mission – OPCW

To implement the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention to achieve our vision of a world free of chemical weapons and the threat of their use, and in which chemistry is utilised for peace, progress, and prosperity.

Objectives of OPCW

  • To destroy all existing chemical weapons under international verification.
  • To monitor the chemical industry to prevent chemical weapons from re-emerging.
  • To provide assistance and protection to States Parties against chemical threats.
  • To foster international cooperation to strengthen the implementation of the Convention and promote the peaceful use of chemistry.

Powers – OPCW

OPCW has the power to perform an inspection to verify that signatory countries are complying with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It can send inspectors to any signatory State to search for evidence of the production of banned chemicals. It can also perform testing of sites and victims of suspected chemical weapons attacks.

These inspections are designed to verify compliance of the State Parties with the requirements imposed on the production and use of scheduled chemicals and to verify that the industrial activities of Member States have been declared correctly according to the obligations set by the CWC.

In case of an allegation of chemical weapons usage or prohibited production, a fact-finding inspection can be employed according to the Convention. Under the challenge inspection procedure, the State Parties have committed themselves to the principle of “any time, anywhere inspection” with no right of refusal. The OPCW only undertakes these inspections at the request of another Member State after verification of the presented proof. To avoid misuse, a majority of three-quarters can block a challenge inspection request.

At all operational chemical weapons destruction facilities, 24/7 inspections by the OPCW take place on-site to verify the success of destruction and the amounts of weapons being destroyed.

Organisational Structure of OPCW

The core organisational structure of the OPCW and its activities are described in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Conference of the States Parties

The principal and plenary organ of the OPCW is the Conference of the State Parties, in which all countries can participate, with equal voting rights. It is generally convened yearly. It oversees the implementation of the CWC, promotes its goals and reviews compliance with the treaty. It also supervises the activities of the Executive Council and Technical Secretariat. The Convention assigns the Conference several responsibilities, including:

  • Taking measures necessary to ensure compliance with the Convention;
  • Approving the annual report of the Organisation;
  • Adopting the programme and budget and deciding on the scale of financial contribution to be paid by State Parties;
  • Electing the Members of the Executive Council;
  • Appointing the Director-General;
  • Fostering international cooperation for peaceful purposes in the field of chemical activities;
  • To review scientific and technological developments that could affect the Convention.

Executive Council

The Executive Council is the executive organ and governing body of the OPCW. It is required to carry out all functions and powers entrusted to it by the Convention and any functions delegated to it by the Conference. It consists of 41 OPCW Member States, which are appointed by the Conference on a two-year term. The Council supervises the activities of the Technical Secretariat and is responsible for promoting the effective implementation of the CWC. The most significant functions of the Council include:

  • To take measures in cases of non-compliance by a State Party, including the submission of recommendations for action to be taken by the Conference;
  • To consider and submit to the Conference the draft OPCW programme and budget;
  • To consider and submit to the Conference the draft report of the OPCW on the status of implementation of the CWC and the Report of the Council on the performance of its activities;
  • To make recommendations to the Conference on the appointment of the Director-General.

The Executive Council has considerable executive powers regarding the implementation of the Convention. It may, without reference to the Conference:

  • Conclude agreements with the Member States on behalf of the Organisation in connection with assistance and protection against chemical weapons;
  • Approve arrangements or agreements related to the implementation of verification activities negotiated by the Technical Secretariat with State Parties, such as facility agreements;
  • Subject to prior approval by the Conference, the Council may conclude agreements or arrangements with States and international organisations on behalf of the Organisation.

Technical Secretariat

The Technical Secretariat of the OPCW assists the Conference of the State Parties and Executive Council in performing their tasks and carries out the Chemical Weapons Convention’s verification measures. It consists of around 500 staff members recruited from over 80 Member States.

Technical Secretariat also carries functions entrusted to it under the Convention and those tasks delegated to it by the Conference and the Council. Its duties include:

  • To prepare and submit the draft budget to the Council;
  • To prepare annual reports on the implementation of the CWC;
  • To manage day-to-day communications to and from the Member States, including declarations;
  • To provide technical assistance to State Parties to enable full implementation of the CWC;
  • To conduct on-site inspections;
  • To negotiate verification agreements with the Member States, subject to approval by the Council;
  • To disseminate the information on the CWC through seminars and public relations activities;
  • To assist the development by the Member States of programmes to protect against chemical weapons;
  • To support and foster international cooperation in chemistry for peaceful purposes.


All 193 State Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention are automatically members of the OPCW.

The other States which are eligible to become Members are the UN Member States. Of the 4 United Nations Member States that are not parties to the CWCIsrael has signed but not ratified the treaty, while EgyptNorth Korea, and South Sudan have neither signed nor acceded to the Convention. 

On 21 April 2021, Syria was stripped of its voting rights at the OPCW because of the use of poison gas during the Syrian civil war.

98% of the global population lives under the protection of the CWC. 99% of the chemical weapons stockpiles declared by possessor States have been verifiably destroyed.

Relations with UN

The OPCW is not a United Nations (UN) organisation. But the OPCW has a working relationship with the UN. On 7 September 2000, the OPCW and the United Nations (UN) signed a Relationship Agreement outlining the modalities for their future cooperation and the mechanisms for consultation on matters of mutual interest and concern. The OPCW’s Conference of States Parties approved the agreement one year later.

Also Read:

Leave a Comment