UN names chemical weapons probe team

NEW YORK • A disarmament expert from Argentina has been appointed to head an independent panel tasked with determining who is behind chemical weapon attacks in Syria.

Ms Virginia Gamba, who has been the director of the United Nations disarmament office for the past two years, will work with two deputies during the one-year mission to assign responsibility for the use of the banned deadly agents, the UN said on Tuesday. The three-person panel will work with The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Ms Gamba has been working on disarmament issues for more than 30 years, including with think-tanks and two previous missions on chemical weapons in Syria, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Mr Ban also intends to appoint Mr Adrian Neritani of Albania and Mr Eberhard Schanze of Germany to the panel, Mr Dujarric added.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution last month setting up the joint investigation, in a rare display of unity over how to address the four-year war.

After some delay over Russia's reservations about the panel's mandate, the mission received the final go-ahead from the council last week.

Western governments hope the investigation will assign blame to specific individuals that could be used to prosecute them. Both Syria's government and rebels have denied using chemical weapons.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 in an effort to avert US military strikes threatened over a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians. The OPCW has since found that chlorine has been "systematically and repeatedly" used as a weapon, though it is not mandated to lay blame.

Moscow, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, maintains there is no concrete proof that the attacks were carried out by regime forces.

And prospects for accountability appear remote. Russia and China have blocked UN Security Council referral of the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court.

Any sanctions would require a new resolution, which Russia could veto. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'UN names chemical weapons probe team'. Print Edition | Subscribe