Category Archives: Care of Creation

In Early Holiday ‘Gift to Polluters,’ Trump Guts Protections for 60 Percent of Nation’s Streams, Wetlands, and Waterways

pollution photophoto caption: The Trump administration unveiled a regulatory
rollback of the Waters of the U.S. rule, meant to protect
streams and wetlands from pollution and development. (Photo:
Laurence Arnold/Flickr/cc)

“Piece by piece, molecule by molecule, Trump is handing over
our country to corporate polluters and other industrial
interests at the expense of our future.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer

Sixty percent of U.S. waterways will be at risk for pollution
from corporate giants, critics say, following the Trump
administration’s announcement Tuesday that it will roll back
an Obama-era water rule meant to protect Americans’ drinking
water and all the waterways that flow into it.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the
Obama administration’s 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS)
rule would be redefined and no longer protect many of the
nation’s streams and wetlands.

“This is an early Christmas gift to polluters and a lump of
coal for everyone else,” said Bob Irvin, president of the
national advocacy group American Rivers. “Too many people are
living with unsafe drinking water. Low-income communities,
indigenous peoples, and communities of color are hit hardest
by pollution and river degradation.”
Under the Trump administration’s proposal, which Common Dreams
reported as imminent last week, streams that flow only after
rainfall or snowfall will no longer be protected from
pollution by developers, agricultural companies, and the
fossil fuel industry. Wetlands that are not connected to
larger waterways will also not be protected, with developers
potentially able to pave over those water bodies.

“The Trump administration will stop at nothing to reward
polluting industries and endanger our most treasured
resources.” —Jon Devine, NRDC

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler suggested that WOTUS
had created unfair roadblocks for industries, farmers, and
ranchers who wanted to build and work near the nation’s
waterways and were kept from doing so because of the potential
for water pollution.

But green groups slammed the EPA for once again putting the
interests of businesses ahead of the families which rely on
the rule that keeps at least 60 percent of the nation’s
drinking water sources safe from pollution while also
protecting wildlife and ecosystems which thrive in wetlands
across the country.

“The Trump administration will stop at nothing to reward
polluting industries and endanger our most treasured
resources,” Jon Devine, director of the Natural Resources
Defense Council’s (NRDC) federal water program, said in a
statement. “Given the problems facing our lakes, streams and
wetlands from the beaches of Florida to the drinking water of
Toledo, now is the time to strengthen protections for our
waterways, not weaken them.”

Ken Kopocis, the top water official at the EPA under President
Barack Obama, told the Los Angeles Times that the regulatory
rollback will create potential for the pollution of larger
bodies of water, even though they are technically still
covered under WOTUS and the Clean Water Act.

“You can’t protect the larger bodies of water unless you
protect the smaller ones that flow into them,” said Kopocis.
“You end up with a situation where you can pollute or destroy
smaller streams and bodies, and it will eventually impact the
larger ones.”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch,
called the revised WOTUS rule a “steamroller” to environmental
oversight that American families rely on.

“Piece by piece, molecule by molecule, Trump is handing over
our country to corporate polluters and other industrial
interests at the expense of our future,” said Hauter.

“The proposed rule will take us back five decades in our
effort to clean up our waterways,” argued Theresa Pierno of
the National Parks Conservancy Association (NPCA). “We must
ensure clean water protections extend to all streams,
wetlands, lakes and rivers that contribute to the health of
larger water bodies downstream, and our communities, parks,
and wildlife that depend on them.”

“We will fight to ensure the highest level of protections for
our nation’s waters—for our health, our communities and our
parks,” Pierno added.

 

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/12/11/early-holiday-gift-polluters-trump-guts-protections-60-percent-nations-streams

Calling Promotion Betrayal of Planet, Groups Denounce Schumer for Giving ‘Fossil Fuel Servant’ Joe Manchin Top Spot on Energy Committee.

“Appointing Senator Manchin as ranking member of the Energy Committee is completely at odds with any plan for real climate action.”

Energy photo“This is the wrong choice at the wrong time for the Democrats,” said David Turnbull, strategic communications director with Oil Change USA. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

By Jake Johnson, staff writer

At a time when people throughout the U.S. and around the world are rallying behind bold solutions to the climate crisis and urgently warning that there is no time to waste, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) decided late Tuesday to betray his constituents and the planet, groups warned, by promoting “fossil fuel servant” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to the top Democratic spot on the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“Schumer is out of touch with the progressive voters who will continue to push for a Green New Deal in the next Congress.”
—Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth

“Appointing Senator Manchin as ranking member of the Energy Committee is completely at odds with any plan for real climate action,” May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement. “Manchin has taken every opportunity to put Big Oil before the health and safety of communities and our climate.”

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, argued that the appointment of the pro-coal West Virginia senator to a top Energy Committee slot is a “stark failure of Chuck Schumer’s leadership” in the midst of dire scientific warnings that the world must cut carbon emissions in half by 2040 to avert planetary catastrophe.

“Schumer is out of touch with the progressive voters who will continue to push for a Green New Deal in the next Congress,” Pica declared, alluding to the demonstrators who have flooded the halls of Congress and faced mass arrests in recent weeks to pressure lawmakers to support ambitious climate solutions.
The West Virginia senator’s promotion—which was ratified Tuesday evening by members of the Senate Democratic caucus—came amid a wave of opposition from environmental groups, who adopted an “anyone but Manchin” stance in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s announcement.

“Not even this foolish decision can stop the groundswell of momentum that’s building for a Green New Deal.”
—May Boeve, 350.org

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—who is pushing for the formation of a Green New Deal Select Committee in the House—joined progressive advocacy groups in warning against the appointment of Manchin, who has raked in over $156,000 in campaign cash from the fossil fuel industry in 2018, and is reportedly still profiting from a coal brokerage company he helped run before entering politics.

“I have concerns over the senator’s chairmanship just because I do not believe that we should be financed by the industries that we are supposed to be legislating and regulating and touching with our legislation,” Ocasio-Cortez said during a press conference on the Green New Deal last month.

While corporate media outlets worked hard to blame Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—currently the ranking member on the powerful Senate Budget Committee—for not abandoning his post to block Manchin, commentators were quick to note that Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) all have seniority over Manchin and could have taken the seat, but chose not to.

Ultimately, progressives placed the blame squarely on Schumer for refusing to heed grassroots demands to appoint a climate leader over a fossil fuel puppet.

“This is the wrong choice at the wrong time for the Democrats,” said David Turnbull, strategic communications director with Oil Change USA. “Senator Schumer has failed in finding a ranking member for this committee that truly understands that the climate crisis requires us to take on the fossil fuel industry, not cater to its demands.”

While dismayed by Manchin’s promotion, Boeve of 350.org expressed confidence that “not even this foolish decision can stop the groundswell of momentum that’s building for a Green New Deal.”

“With the leadership of communities and support from truly progressive members of Congress,” she concluded, “we’ll fight tooth and nail for climate policy that transitions us off fossil fuels to a 100 percent renewable energy economy.”

 

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/12/12/calling-promotion-betrayal-planet-groups-denounce-schumer-giving-fossil-fuel-servant

 

After More Than a Decade, Rights of Indigenous Peoples Not Fully Realized

By Miroslav Lajcák (President of the UN General Assembly)

 

indigenous-people_2-629x353
A UN press conference on indigenous peoples. Credit: UN Photo

 

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2018 (IPS) – First, I want to talk about how we got here.

It was nearly 100 years ago, when indigenous peoples first asserted their rights, on the international stage. But, they did not see much progress. At least until 1982 – when the first Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established.

And, in 2007, the rights of indigenous peoples were, finally, set out in an international instrument.

Let us be clear here. Rights are not aspirational. They are not ideals. They are not best-case scenarios. They are minimum standards. They are non-negotiable. And, they must be respected, and promoted.

Yet, here we are. More than a decade after the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. And the fact is, these rights are not being realized.

That is not to say that there has been no progress. In fact, we heard many success stories, during yesterday’s opening of the Permanent Forum.

But, they are not enough.

Which is why, as my second point, I want to say that we need to do much more.

Last September, the General Assembly gave my office a new mandate. It requested that I organise informal interactive hearings – to look at how indigenous peoples can better participate at the United Nations.

So, that is why we are all sitting here. But, before we launch into our discussions, I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

I know that many of you were disappointed, with the General Assembly’s decision last year. After two years of talking, many of you wanted more than these interactive hearings.

We cannot gloss over this. And that is why I want to address it – from the outset. But I must also say this: Things may be moving slowly. But they are still moving.

When our predecessors formed the first indigenous working group, in 1982, their chances were slim. Many doubted whether an international instrument could be adopted. And, frankly, it took longer than it should have. But, it still happened.

So, we need to acknowledge the challenges, and frustrations. We cannot sweep them under the rug.

But we also cannot let them take away from the opportunities we have, in front of us.

And that brings me to my third point, on our discussions today.

This is your hearing. So, please be blunt. Please be concrete. Please be innovative.

Like I have said, we should not pretend that everything is perfect. Major problems persist – particularly at the national level. And, we need to draw attention to them. Today, however, we have a very specific mandate. And that is, to explore how we can carve out more space, for indigenous peoples, on the international stage.

That is why I ask you to focus on the future of our work, here, at the United Nations. And to try to come up with as many ideas and proposals as possible.

In particular, we should look at the following questions:

Which venues and forums are most suitable?

What modalities should govern participation?

What kind of participants should be selected?

And how will this selection happen?

We should also try to form a broader vision. This will allow us to better advise the General Assembly’s ongoing process to enhance indigenous peoples’ participation.

Finally, next steps.

As you know, this is our very first informal, interactive hearing. There will be two further hearings – next year, and the year after.

Then – during what we call the 75th Session of the General Assembly – negotiations between governments will start up again.

Turning back to today, the immediate outcome of our hearing will be a President’s Summary. But, I am confident that the longer-term outcome will be yet another step, in the direction of change.

So, this is where I will conclude. My main job, now, is to listen.

 

Priest campaigning for Brazil’s Amazon arrested for sex crimes and extortion

Karla Mendes

March 29, 2018 | RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A Brazilian priest who risked his life campaigning for the landless has been arrested for sexual harassment and extortion but his lawyer said the charges are a ruse to stop his work.

Jose Amaro Lopes de Sousa, known as Padre Amaro, is regarded as the successor to American nun and environmental activist Dorothy Stang, who was murdered in 2005, an emblematic case for the many conflicts over land use in resource-rich Brazil.

A police statement said that Amaro was arrested on Tuesday in the city of Anapu in northern Para state, home to a vast Amazon rainforest reserve, following a court order and eight months of investigations.

“For us, there is no doubt that behind this investigation there is a ranchers’ conspiracy aiming to make Padre Amaro’s work unfeasible,” the priest’s lawyer, Jose Batista Afonso, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone on Wednesday.

“Padre Amaro personifies nun Dorothy’s work … He has been receiving death threats for a long time.”

Stang often criticized cattle ranchers for seizing land illegally and destroying the rainforest, highlighting tensions between farmers and environmentalists in the top global beef exporter. Local landowners were jailed for ordering her death.

The ranchers’ union in Anapu said they had nothing to do with Amaro’s arrest, adding that about 400 police reports, including videos and witness testimonies, support the charges.

“(Amaro) held meetings in the dead of night, encouraging people to invade land and then had an illegal trade in these invaded lands,” Silverio Albano Fernandes, head of Anapu’s ranchers union, said by phone.

“He was making profit from these sales as he kept a percentage. Everybody knows it here.”

London-based campaign group Global Witness said that Brazil was the world’s most dangerous nation for land rights activists in 2016, with about 50 people killed.

About a dozen land activists have been murdered since 2005 in Anapu, where Amaro is based, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), set up by the Catholic Church to combat violence against the rural poor.

Amaro’s opponents could not kill him because of the international outcry following Stang’s shooting, and because some are still in jail, said Afonso, who works for CPT.

“Of course, the way chosen to try to nullify the priest’s work would be different,” he said.

Afonso said he will file for habeas corpus, which requires Amaro be brought to court and released unless lawful grounds can be shown for his detention.

“We hope the arrest will be revoked,” he said.


Reporting by Karla Mendes; Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-landrights-arrests/priest-campaigning-for-brazils-amazon-arrested-for-sex-crimes-and-extortion-idUSKBN1H52H6

Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

Small Farmers in Brazil’s Amazon Region Seek Sustainability

By Mario Osava
IPS News Agency

aa-2. Sustainable Farming Alison Oliveria
Alison Oliveira, surrounded by the organic crops that he and his wife grow on their small-scale farm outside the city of Alta Floresta, on the southern edge of Brazil’s Amazon region. Sustainable family farming, supported by several organisations, acts as a barrier against deforestation and soy monoculture. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

ALTA FLORESTA, Brazil, Sep 19 2017 (IPS) – The deforestation caused by the expansion of livestock farming and soy monoculture appears unstoppable in the Amazon rainforest in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. But small-scale farmers are trying to reverse that trend.

Alison Oliveira is a product of the invasion by a wave of farmers from the south, lured by vast, cheap land in the Amazon region when the 1964-1985 military dictatorship aggressively promoted the occupation of the rainforest.

“I was born here in 1984, but my grandfather came from Paraná (a southern state) and bought about 16 hectares here, which are currently divided between three families: my father’s, my brother’s and mine,” Oliveira told IPS while milking his cows in a barn that is small but mechanised.

“Milk is our main source of income; today we have 14 cows, 10 of which are giving milk,” he explained. “I also make cheese the way my grandfather taught me, and I sell it to hotels and restaurants, for twice the price of the milk.”

But what distinguishes his farm, 17 km from Alta Floresta, a city of about 50,000 people in northern Mato Grosso, is its mode of production, which involves an agroforestry system that combines crops and trees, irrigated pastureland, an organic garden and free-range egg-laying chickens.

Because of its sustainable agriculture system, the farm is used as a model in an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) programme, and is visited by students and other interested people.

“We want more: a biodigester, solar power and rural tourism, when we have the money to make the investments,” said Oliveira’s wife, 34-year-old Marcely Federicci da Silva.

The couple discovered their vocation for sustainable farming after living for 10 years in Sinop, which with its 135,000 people is the most populated city in northern Mato Grosso, and which owes its prosperity to soy crops for export.

“Raising two small children in the city is harder,” she said, also attributing their return to the countryside to Olhos de Agua, a project promoted by the municipal government of Alta Floresta to reforest and restore the headwaters of rivers on small rural properties.

The financial viability of the farm owes a great deal to the support received from the non-governmental Ouro Verde Institute (IOV), which in addition to providing technical assistance, created a mechanism for on-line sales, creating links between farmers and consumers, Oliveira pointed out.

The Solidarity-Based Marketing System (Siscos), launched in 2008, is“an on-line market that allows direct interaction between 30 farmers and over 500 registered customers, zootechnician Cirio Custodio da Silva, marketing consultant for the IOV, explained to IPS.

Customers place weekly orders, the system chooses suppliers and picks up the products to be delivered to the buyers in a shop on Wednesdays.

Besides, Siscos supports sales in street markets, and the school feeding programme, which by law in Brazil buys at least 30 per cent of its food products from family farmers, and the women textile workers’ network, who make handcrafted textiles.

The IOV, founded in 1999 in Alta Floresta to drive social participation in sustainable development, especially in agriculture, has promoted since 2010 a network of native seeds, to encourage reforestation and crop diversification.

Seed collectors organised in a 115-member cooperative, with 12 seed banks, 200 selected tree species, and mainly oilseeds for agriculture, represent an activity that is also a source of income, said agronomist Anderson Lopes, head of that area at the IOV.

Initially, the interest of the farmers was limited to having access to agricultural seeds, but later it also extended to seeds of native tree species, for the restoration of forests, springs and headwaters, and degraded land, he said.

Silva and Lopes have similar backgrounds. Their farming families, from the south, ventured to the so-called Portal of the Amazon, a region that covers 16 municipalities in northern Mato Grosso, where the rainforest begins.

It is a territory with a rural economy, where one-third of the 258,000 inhabitants still live in the countryside, according to the 2010 national census.

It is a transition zone between the area with the largest soybean and maize production in Brazil, in north-central Mato Grosso, and the Amazon region with its dense, sparsely populated jungle.

This is reflected in 14 indigenous territories established in the area and in the number of family farmers – over 20,000 – in contrast with the prevalence of large soybean plantations that are advancing from the south.

The road that connects Sinop – a kind of capital of the empire of soy – with Alta Floresta, 320 km to the north, runs through land that gradually becomes less flat and favourable for mechanised monoculture, with more and more forests and fewer vast agricultural fields.

aaaa-grocery store Pedro Kingfuku
Pedro Kingfuku, owner of four supermarkets, stands among fruit and vegetables that come from Paraná, 2,000 km south of Paranaita, a municipality with a population of 11,000 people. Local family farming has a great capacity for expansion to cater to the large market in the north of the state of Mato Grosso, in west-central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

That tendency is accentuated towards Paranaita, a municipality with a population of 11,000 people, 54 km west of Alta Floresta, which announces the last frontier of livestock farming and soy monoculture, at least through that south-north highway across Mato Grosso, the national leader in the production of soy.

Movements in favour of sustainability, such as the one supported by IOV, and the important presence of family farmers, are joining forces to help curb the invasion of the Amazon region by soy monoculture which dominated north-central Mato Grosso, creating a post-harvest desert-like landscape.

Another non-governmental organisation, the Center of Life Institute (ICV), also active in Alta Floresta and surrounding areas, has a Sustainable Livestock Initiative, with reforestation and restoration of degraded pastures.

The “colonisation” process of the Portal of the Amazon was similar to that of the rest of Mato Grosso. People from the south came with dreams of working in agriculture, after previous waves of loggers and “garimpeiros” – informal miners of gold and precious stones – activities that still continue but have become less prevalent.

“Many of those who obtained land harvested the timber and then returned south,” because planting crops was torture, without roads, marketing or financial support, recalled Daniel Schlindewein, another migrant from Paraná who settled in Sinop in 1997.

Agriculture failed with coffee, rice and other traditional crops that were initially tried, until soy monoculture spread among the small farms, rented from the large producers.

But family farming has survived in the Portal of the Amazon.

“If the town of São Pedro didn’t exist, I would have to close the store in Paranaíta,“ Pedro Kingfuku, the owner of a chain of four supermarkets in the area, told IPS. He opened the stores in 2013 betting that the construction of the Teles Pires Hydropower Plant nearby would generate 5,000 new customers.

“But not even a tenth of what was expected came,” he lamented.

The 785 farming families who settled in São Pedro, near Paranaíta, saved the local supermarket because they mainly buy there, said Kingfuku, the son of Japanese immigrants who also came from Paraná.

“Among the settlers, the ones who earn the most are the dairy farmers, like my father who has 16 hectares of land,” said Mauricio Dionisio, a young man who works in the supermarket.

Additional Photos: [ http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/small-farmers-brazils-amazon-region-seek-sustainability/ ]

‘Hear the cry of the earth,’ pope and patriarch urge

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

WATERFALL NORTH CAROLINA
“Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures,” Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said in a joint message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

(September 1, 2017) VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Environmental destruction is a sign of a “morally decaying scenario” in which too many people ignore or deny that, from the beginning, “God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment,” said the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Marking the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for Creation, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued a joint message.

They urged government and business leaders “to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.”
Looking at the description of the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis, the pope and patriarch said, “The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy.”

But, they said, “our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets — all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation.”

“We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession,” the two leaders said. “We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.”

Ignoring God’s plan for creation has “tragic and lasting” consequences on both “the human environment and the natural environment,” they wrote. “Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.”

The pope and the patriarch said prayer is not incidental to ecology, because “an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world.”

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople established the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 1989. In 2015, shortly after publishing his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis established the day of prayer for Catholics as well.
The object of Christian prayer and action for the safeguarding of creation, the two leaders wrote, is to encourage all Christians “to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.”

Echoing remarks Pope Francis made Aug. 30 when the pontiff announced he and the patriarch were issuing a joint message, the text included a plea to world leaders.
“We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized,” they wrote. No enduring solution can be found “to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew also highlighted how “this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people,” especially the poor, in a more pronounced way.

“Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures,” they said. “The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development.”

How Syria continued to gas its people as the world looked on

Reuters Investigates Toxic War

REUTERS-Bassam Khabieh Syria continues to gas citizens
DEADLY AGENT: A sarin attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta killed hundreds of men, women and children in August, 2013. Despite international condemnation, attacks with chemicals continue. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

Nearly four years after President Bashar al-Assad’s government promised to get rid of its stockpile of chemical weapons, gas attacks are still commonplace. What went wrong?

By Anthony Deutsch

Filed Aug. 17, 2017, 10 a.m. GMT | THE HAGUE – In the spring of 2015 a Syrian major general escorted a small team of chemical weapons inspectors to a warehouse outside the Syrian capital Damascus. The international experts wanted to examine the site, but were kept waiting outside in their car for around an hour, according to several people briefed on the visit.

When they were finally let into the building, it was empty. They found no trace of banned chemicals.

“Look, there is nothing to see,” said the general, known to the inspectors as Sharif, opening the door.

So why were the inspectors kept waiting? The Syrians said they were getting the necessary approval to let them in, but the inspectors had a different theory. They believed the Syrians were stalling while the place was cleaned out. It made no sense to the team that special approval was needed for them to enter an empty building.

The incident, which was not made public, is just one example of how Syrian authorities have hindered the work of inspectors and how the international community has failed to hold Syria to account, according to half a dozen interviews with officials, diplomats, and investigators involved in eliminating Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.

A promise by Syria in 2013 to surrender its chemical weapons averted U.S. air strikes. Many diplomats and weapons inspectors now believe that promise was a ruse.

They suspect that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while appearing to cooperate with international inspectors, secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability. They say Syria hampered inspectors, gave them incomplete or misleading information, and turned to using chlorine bombs when its supplies of other chemicals dwindled.

There have been dozens of chlorine attacks and at least one major sarin attack since 2013, causing more than 200 deaths and hundreds of injuries. International inspectors say there have been more than 100 reported incidents of chemical weapons being used in the past two years alone.

“The cooperation was reluctant in many aspects and that’s a polite way of describing it,” Angela Kane, who was the United Nation’s high representative for disarmament until June 2015, told Reuters. “Were they happily collaborating? No.”

“What has really been shown is that there is no counter-measure, that basically the international community is just powerless,” she added.

That frustration was echoed by U.N. war crimes investigator Carla del Ponte, who announced on Aug. 6 she was quitting a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria. “I have no power as long as the Security Council does nothing,” she said. “We are powerless, there is no justice for Syria.”

The extent of Syria’s reluctance to abandon chemical weapons has not previously been made public for fear of damaging international inspectors’ relationship with Assad’s administration and its backer, Russia, which is giving military support to Assad. Now investigators and diplomatic sources have provided telling details to Reuters:

– Syria’s declarations about the types and quantities of chemicals it possessed do not match evidence on the ground uncovered by inspectors. Its disclosures, for example, make no mention of sarin, yet there is strong evidence that sarin has been used in Syria, including this year. Other chemicals found by inspectors but not reported by Syria include traces of nerve agent VX, the poison ricin and a chemical called hexamine, which is used to stabilise sarin.

– Syria told inspectors in 2014-2015 that it had used 15 tonnes of nerve gas and 70 tonnes of sulphur mustard for research. Reuters has learned that inspectors believe those amounts are not “scientifically credible.” Only a fraction would be needed for research, two sources involved in inspections in Syria said.

“Why, my God, three-and-a-half years later, has more progress not been made in clearing up the inconsistencies? If I was the head of an organisation like that, I would go to Damascus and I would confront these people.”
–Angela Kane, former U.N. high representative for disarmament

– At least 2,000 chemical bomb shells, which Syria said it had converted to conventional weapons and either used or destroyed, are unaccounted for, suggesting that they may still be in the hands of Syria’s military.

– In Damascus, witnesses with knowledge of the chemical weapons programme were instructed by Syrian military officials to alter their statements midway through interviews with inspectors, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international agency overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, conceded serious questions remain about the completeness and accuracy of Syria’s disclosures.

“There are certainly some gaps, uncertainties, discrepancies,” OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu, a Turkish diplomat, told Reuters.

But he rejected criticism of his leadership by Kane and some other diplomats. Kane told Reuters that Uzumcu should have turned up the pressure on Syria over the gaps in its reporting and done more to support his inspectors. Uzumcu countered that it was not his job “to ensure the full compliance” of treaties on chemical weapons, saying that the OPCW was mandated to confirm use of chemical weapons but not to assign blame.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, insisted that Syria was completely free of chemical weapons and defended the country’s cooperation with international inspectors.

“I assure you that what was called the Syrian chemical weapons programme has ended, and has ended with no return. There are no more chemical weapons in Syria,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Sharif did not respond to requests for comment about the incident at the warehouse.

SARIN ATTACK

On Aug. 21, 2013, hundreds of people died in a sarin gas attack in Ghouta, a district on the outskirts of Damascus. The colourless, odourless nerve agent causes people to suffocate within minutes if inhaled even in small amounts. Assad’s forces were blamed by Western governments. He has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and blames insurgents for the attack.


Continued: Read the full report –
http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/mideast-crisis-syria-chemicalweapons/