The Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat established the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) pursuant to the Decision by the Conference of the States Parties entitled “Addressing the Threat from Chemical Weapons Use” (C-SS-4/DEC.3, dated 27 June 2018). The IIT began its work in June 2019, focusing on certain incidents for which the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) had determined that use or likely use of chemical weapons on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic occurred and for which the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism had not reached a final conclusion.
The IIT is not a judicial body with the authority to assign individual criminal responsibility, nor does the IIT have the authority to make final findings of non-compliance with the Convention. The mandate of the IIT is to establish the facts.
This second report of the IIT sets out the findings of the investigations conducted in the period between April 2020 and March 2021, focusing on the incident in Saraqib, the Syrian Arab Republic, on 4 February 2018. On the basis of all the information obtained and its analysis, the IIT concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that at approximately 21:22 on 4 February 2018, during ongoing attacks against Saraqib, a military helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force under the control of the Tiger Forces hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder. The cylinder ruptured and released a toxic gas, chlorine, which dispersed over a large area affecting 12 named individuals.
The IIT reached its conclusions on the basis of the degree of certainty of “reasonable grounds”. In reaching its conclusions, the IIT carefully assessed the information obtained from the FFM, States Parties, and other entities, coupled with interviews conducted by the IIT and analyses of samples, munition remnants, gas dispersion models, and topographic studies, as well as advice from experts, specialists, and forensic institutes, along with other relevant material and sources. The IIT reviewed thousands of files, amounting to more than 400 gigabytes, obtained 44 statements from more than 30 witnesses, and considered data related to 18 samples. The IIT assessed this information holistically, scrutinising carefully its probative value through a widely shared methodology in compliance with best practices of international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry. In so doing, the IIT adhered to applicable OPCW procedures, including with respect to chain of custody, supplemented as appropriate. The IIT pursued lines of inquiry and scenarios suggested by the Syrian authorities, but was unable to obtain any concrete information supporting them. The conclusions in this report are based on the combination, consistency, and corroboration of all of the information gathered as a whole.
The IIT is grateful for the ample support received during its investigation from States Parties, other entities, and individuals.
The challenges faced by the IIT included its inability to access the site of the incidents in the Syrian Arab Republic. The IIT regrets that this access was not granted, despite:
(a) various requests addressed by the Technical Secretariat to the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic; (b) the obligation by the Syrian Arab Republic to cooperate with the Technical Secretariat under paragraph 7 of Article VII of the Chemical Weapons Convention; and (c) the obligation incumbent on the Syrian Arab Republic, pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolution 2118 (2013), to cooperate fully with the OPCW by providing personnel designated by the OPCW with immediate and unfettered access to any and all sites and individuals that the OPCW has grounds to believe to be of importance for the purpose of its mandate. The IIT has expressed on several occasions its readiness to meet with representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic at their convenience and at a location of their choosing to discuss the progress of its activities and their modalities.
- The Decision of 27 June 2018 by the Conference of the States Parties requires the Technical Secretariat to provide the reports on the IIT investigations to the OPCW Executive Council and to the United Nations Secretary-General for their consideration, and to preserve and provide information to the mechanism established by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 71/248 (2016), as well as to any relevant investigatory entities established under the auspices of the United Nations. Accordingly, the IIT has endeavoured to compile this report and its related records and findings in a manner suitable for future use by these bodies. This also means that the IIT has carefully considered, in reaching its conclusions, that the information used in this report may be assessed and used by other bodies in the future.