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Remembering the victims of chemical weapons

Image: Andrew Deci

Victims of chemical weapons are left in silence, neglected, and all-too-often ostracised and discriminated. / Image: Andrew Deci

Today marks the International Day of Remembrance for Victims of Chemical Weapons. Such a day is important. It causes us to stop and take stock of the terrible impact such weapons have on civilians and combatants alike. Not as a weapon of the past, but one that is still hitting headlines, particularly given the current evidence coming out of Syria.

But it also causes us to remember what is – and what is not – being done to stop more lives being destroyed.  And much still needs to be done.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is an arms control agreement, which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. But, as with many other weapons-focused agreements, there was no voice from the victims of chemical-weapons when the agreement was created.

Nor were there written into the treaty provisions that committed states to providing much needed assistance to those affected by chemical weapons.

These are not outrageous things to ask for. The Mine Ban Treaty in 1997 recognised that states are obliged to consider the victim when policy makers sit down to formulate international policy. And the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions strengthened and codified state’s obligation to provide assistance to victims of cluster munitions, without discrimination against all injured in the conflict.

So there we have two major disarmament treaties that recognised the fact that in order to deal fully with the legacy of inhumane weapons, we must recognise those most affected by them: the victims and the survivors.

The current Chemical Weapons Convention doesn’t do this.

And so the victims of Chemical Weapons are left in silence, neglected, and all-too-often ostracised and discriminated against because of the marks that war has left on their skins, their lungs, their lives.

The UN Secretary General today said:  “Let us work together to bring all States under the Convention and promote its full implementation.  This is how we can best honour past victims and liberate future generations from the threat of chemical weapons.”

AOAV strongly agrees with this statement. But we believe that the best way, and perhaps the only way, to truly honour victims and survivors is to recognise that they have rights.  To recognise that they need access to specialist services to help them recover.  And to recognise that in every victim has the potential, and the right, to become, once more, productive members of society.