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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Activist Decries Draft Law on Chemical Weapons

A draft law on the destruction of Russia's massive chemical weapons stockpile, due for second reading in the Duma on Wednesday, will not protect human rights and the environment, according to a prominent critic of the government's chemical weapons policy.

Lev Fyodorov, head of the Union for Chemical Safety, a grouping of three ecological organizations, described the proposed law as being "against humanity and nature" at a press conference Tuesday.

According to the multinational Chemical Weapons Convention, which Russia signed in 1993 and which came into force this year, the government must destroy its vast stockpile of chemical weapons within 10 years of the treaty coming into effect.

The Russian parliament has not yet ratified the convention, but it is already considering legislation to govern its application in Russia.

Fyodorov, however, said the law in its current form does not protect inhabitants or the environment against the risks associated with the presence of chemical weapons facilities, and deprives workers in such establishments of their rights.

Furthermore, he said, the law limits the public's right to information and does not guarantee local authorities access to chemical weapons facilities, despite the risk they pose. Most importantly, there is no provision for a mechanism to carry out the law, he said.

Comparing Russia's safety record with that of the United States, Fyodorov said people working in Russia's two chemical weapons factories in Novocheboksary and Volgograd had been physically affected by their work there. Of 8,000 employees at the two factories, 200 had developed illnesses that could be related to chemical poisoning, he said. The factory in Novocheboksary is no longer operating and is to be destroyed, but former employees still suffer medical problems as a result of their work there, said Fyodorov.

In six regions where seven chemical weapons storage sites are located -- Udmurtia, Bryansk, Kirovsk, Kurgan, Saratov and Penza -- Fyodorov's union has suggested that local consultative commissions be established with representatives from local authorities and organizations to resolve people's doubts relating to these storage sites.

"Even this mild suggestion was not accepted," said Fyodorov.

"We will continue to fight for a law which is good for the people," he added.

Moscow admits that it has the world's largest stockpile of poison gases, estimated at 40,000 tons, but there are doubts about Russia's ability to meet the 10-year deadline for their destruction.

Fyodorov said government pressure has been increasing on organizations concerned with environmental and human-rights issues. "It is harder for ecologists to work," he said. "The government has not been interested in ecology for a long time."

The Chemical Weapons Convention aims to wipe out chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities worldwide. It has not been signed by North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iraq or Egypt -- countries whose arms programs the United States sees as most threatening.

The United States indefinitely postponed ratification of the convention by the U.S. Senate in September because it faced rejection by opponents who said it has inadequate provisions to protect U.S. security.