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The OPCW and civil society: considerations on relevant themes and issues

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Version 2 2024-01-04, 12:34
Version 1 2023-11-24, 16:45
posted on 2024-01-04, 12:34 authored by Alexander GhionisAlexander Ghionis

This paper explores some key elements of the relationship between the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and civil society, with the aim of supporting ongoing discussions regarding options and mechanisms to enhance that relationship. The paper takes an empirical approach that contributes to the necessary efforts to expand the evidence base available to inform these deliberations. In particular, the paper addresses:

• The composition and focus of accredited civil society organisations (CSOs);

• How CSOs have engaged with the OPCW so far and what alternative modes of engagement may be beneficial; and,

• What foundational aspects can strengthen the relationship between the OPCW and civil society moving forward.

This paper is focused specifically on civil society, noting that industry and the scientific community are viewed by the OPCW as a distinct group. As such, industry does not comprise the central focus of this study; similarly, the ‘scientific community’ is an ambiguous term, overlapping with civil society and industry. Both, therefore, deserve attention in their own right.

There are a diverse range of CSOs that have engaged with the OPCW since 1997, and those accredited to the Conference of the States Parties (CSP) encompass a fluid range of organisational types, including academia, think tanks, industry associations, non-governmental organisations, and others. The work that these CSOs do is equally diverse, spanning topics such as non-proliferation, chemical safety, international law, victims’ rights and assistance, environmental issues, and peace and disarmament.

Over half of all accredited CSOs since 1997 have been based in just six States Parties: Iraq, The United States of America, The Netherlands, Nigeria, The United Kingdom, and Iran. However, the location of accredited CSOs, in general, skews heavily towards Western Europe and Other Group (WEOG). Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC) and Eastern Europe are regions with underrepresented accredited civil society. This imbalance suggests that steps to develop a more global civil society participation could significantly expand the expertise and regional diversity that the OPCW could access to support implementation.

There are different modes of engagement that connect civil society with the OPCW. The Conference of States Parties (CSP) is the primary mode, however this often enables only symbolic forms of participation for CSOs. Opportunities for substantive engagement and dialogue during intersessional periods should therefore be expanded.

Indeed, attention to the history of the OPCW reveals rich examples of productive engagement with civil society outside the parametres of the CSP. These are presented, and it is suggested that such examples provide templates for developing an agenda for intersessional engagement opportunities. Wider opportunities for engagement bring with them increasingly valuable outcomes.

Reflecting on some of these observations and considerations, the paper proposes that some short-term efforts in several areas could provide a firm basis upon which the OPCW-civil society relationship can be strengthened over the longer-term.

This includes attention to the accreditation process; the institutional structure, roles, and responsibilities embedded within the formal coordination between civil society and the OPCW; the number and nature of engagement opportunities available during the intersessional period; and ensuring all efforts are undertaken in a transparent and fair manner. Indeed, parallel facilitation processes for both States Parties and civil society may help to co-create a stronger relationship by providing space to interrogate these elements.

These considerations, analysis, and ideas are offered for States Parties as they examine policy options to diversify and strengthen constructive civil society engagement. These may also be of value for the Technical Secretariat and civil society, and therefore the paper is intended for a wide audience. Indeed, the paper presents a number of points that could help inform appropriate next steps for all relevant actors; a table at the end offers some guiding questions that may be useful to consider within relevant facilitation frameworks.

Informal discussions with individuals from the OPCW, industry, civil society, and other stakeholders, have informed this paper.


Publication status

  • Published

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This publication was made possible thanks to the generous financial support of the German Federal Foreign Office

Department affiliated with

  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Publications
  • Business and Management Publications

Research groups affiliated with

  • Harvard Sussex Program Publications


University of Sussex

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