Burma is making preparations to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), an international arms control treaty employed by 98 percent of the world, according to President’s spokesperson Ye Htut.
Burma became signatory to the convention upon its establishment in 1993, but over the course of two decades has not become an implementing member.
“From what I know,” the spokesperson told DVB by phone, “we have signed the convention but have yet to ratify it… a country is obligated to comply with convention principles once they have signed [even if] their legislative body is yet to ratify, which requires amending domestic laws to conform to the convention.
“We have advisors and trainers currently in discussion to provide technical assistance for follow up procedures to comply with ratification; adopting laws and forming necessary bodies such as inquiry groups,” he said.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – the implementing body for the CWC – said that Burma has been urged to take action on the matter.
“As it does with all non-States Parties and Signatory States, the OPCW has made regular overtures to Myanmar through official channels to join the CWC without delay,” said OPCW spokesperson Michael Luhan.
According to Luhan, Burma has sent delegations to OPCW conferences, and in 2013 a team of experts from the OPCW were received in Burma for a technical assistance visit.
The issue became pressing in early February, when a CEO and four correspondents of Unity Weekly journal were arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act for publishing a report about an alleged chemical weapon factory in Pauk, Magwe Division. Several others, including an administrative worker and the wife of a local correspondent, were also called in for questioning.
As the media frenzy began to subside, questions of credibility began to surface. Ye Htut quickly denied the allegations by assuring journalists that “our country is a signatory state for the Chemical Weapons Convention – it was just a defence related factory, but not a chemical weapon factory.”
This turned out to be a somewhat misleading response. Luhan explained that, “As Myanmar is not yet a CWC State Party, the OPCW has no mandate to conduct verification activities in the country and hence cannot comment or speculate upon such reports.”
The convention has 190 State Parties, representing over 98 percent of the world’s population. Two countries have signed but not yet ratified the treaty — Burma and Israel — while four nations have not acceded to the treaty: Angola, North Korea, Egypt and South Sudan.