Click any selection above or click down on the scroll bar to see the entire document

Click here to Return to Main Menu



By its resolution 687 of 3 April 1991, the United Nations Security Council established the terms and conditions for the formal cease-fire between Iraq and the coalition of Member States co-operating with Kuwait. Section C of this resolution called for the elimination, under international supervision, of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres (km), together with related items and production facilities. It also called for measures to ensure that the acquisition and production of prohibited items were not resumed. The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was set up to implement the non-nuclear provisions of the resolution and to assist the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the nuclear areas. The precise terms are laid out in paragraphs 7 to 13 of the resolution.


Return to the Top of Document.


On 18 April 1991, after Iraq had formally accepted the provisions of resolution 687, the Secretary-General submitted to the Security Council his report regarding the establishment of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). Following acceptance by the Security Council of the report on 19 April, the Secretary-General appointed Ambassador Rolf Ekéus (Sweden) as the Executive Chairman of the Special Commission. On 1 May 1991, the Secretary-General appointed 20 other members of the Commission, from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela.

Mr. Richard Butler (Australia) replaced Ambassador Rolf Ekéus as the Executive Chairman on 1 July 1997. Mr. Butler completed his two-year tenure as Executive Chairman on 30 June 1999. A successor was not appointed. The Deputy Executive Chairman, Mr. Charles Duelfer (United States), was officer-in-charge from 1 July 1999, to 17 December 1999, at which time UNSCOM was replaced by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) through the adoption of resolution 1284 (1999) of 17 December 1999.

Full sessions of the members of the Commission have been held approximately twice yearly in New York to discuss policy issues and to assess the results of operations to date. The last meeting of the Commissioners was held in October 1998.


 Return to the Top of Document.



Under the terms of resolution 1051 of 1996, the Executive Chairman was required to report to the UN Security Council on the activities of the Commission on a formal basis through the Secretary-General twice a year. These written reports to the Council were submitted in April and October and cover the activities and issues of the previous six months. In addition, the Executive Chairman, his Deputy and the Commission's experts briefed the Council orally and through the submission of written reports several times a year, as and when necessary.


Return to the Top of Document.



The Commission's mandate was the following: to carry out immediate on-site inspections of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile capabilities; to take possession for destruction, removal or rendering harmless of all chemical and biological weapons and all stocks of agents and all related sub-systems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities; to supervise the destruction by Iraq of all its ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 km and related major parts, and repair and production facilities; and to monitor and verify Iraq's compliance with its undertaking not to use, develop, construct or acquire any of the items specified above. The Commission was also requested to assist the Director General of the IAEA, which, under resolution 687, was requested to undertake activities similar to those of the Commission but specifically in the nuclear field. Further, the Commission was entrusted to designate for inspection any additional site necessary for ensuring the fulfilment of the mandates given to the Commission and the IAEA.


Return to the Top of Document.



While Security Council resolution 687 mandated UNSCOM to conduct inspections in Iraq, it was necessary to establish the detailed modalities and legal basis on which such inspections would be conducted. This was achieved through an exchange of letters in May 1991 involving the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Executive Chairman of UNSCOM and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iraq. The letters constituted an agreement between the United Nations and Iraq under which Iraq was to accord to members of UNSCOM, to officials of the United Nations, the IAEA and specialised agencies of the United Nations system, and to technical experts and specialists in Iraq for the purposes of fulfilling the mandate, all rights contained in the relevant provisions of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946, and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN Specialised Agencies of 1947. As agreed in the exchange of letters, Iraq was also to accord to UNSCOM:

"Unrestricted freedom of entry and exit without delay or hindrance of personnel, property, supplies, equipment, spare parts and other items as well as means of transport, including expeditious issuance of entry and exit visas";

"Unrestricted freedom of movement without advance notice within Iraq of the personnel of the Special Commission and its equipment and means of transport";

"The right to unimpeded access to any site or facility for the purpose of the on-site inspection [pursuant to the mandate] whether such a site be above or below ground .... Any number of sites, facilities or locations may be subject to inspection simultaneously";

"The right to request, receive, examine and copy any record, data or information or examine, retain, move or photograph, including videotape, any item relevant to the Special Commission's activities and to conduct interviews";

"The right to designate any site whatsoever for observation, inspection or other monitoring activity and for storage, destruction or rendering harmless" of the items described in operative paragraphs 8, 9 and 12 of resolution 687;

"The right to install equipment or construct facilities for observation, inspection, testing or other monitoring activity and for storage, destruction or rendering harmless" of those items;

"The right to take photographs, whether from the ground or from the air, relevant to the Special Commission's activities";

"The right to take and analyse samples of any kind as well as to remove and export samples for off-site analysis"; and

"The right to unrestricted communication by radio, satellite or other forms of communication".

Iraq was also to:

"Provide at no cost to the United Nations ....... all such premises as may be necessary for the accommodation and fulfilment of the functions of the Special Commission", to be under the exclusive control of the Executive Chairman of the Special Commission; and

"Without prejudice to the use by the Special Commission of its own security, ... ensure the security and safety of the Special Commission and its personnel".

These rights, privileges and immunities proved to be essential to the effective fulfilment of the Commission's mandate. They remain in force and have since been clarified and supplemented by specific provisions of Security Council resolution 707 (1991) and of UNSCOM's plan for ongoing monitoring and verification.

Members of inspection teams from UNSCOM and personnel assigned to serve at the Commission's Baghdad Monitoring and Verification Centre (BMVC), except for regular UN Secretariat or IAEA support staff, enjoyed the privileges and immunities which are accorded to experts on mission under the various multilateral treaties governing the privileges and immunities of the UN.

Return to the Top of Document.



The implementation of section C of resolution 687 entailed a three-stage process. These stages were not mutually exclusive. Indeed, there was much overlap:

(a) an inspection and survey phase to gather the information necessary to make an informed assessment of Iraq's capabilities and facilities in the chemical, biological and ballistic missile fields;

(b) the disposal of weapons of mass destruction, facilities and other related items through destruction, removal or rendering harmless and the destruction of ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 km, including launchers, other items and repair and production facilities;

(c) long-term monitoring to ensure ongoing verification of Iraq's compliance with its obligations under paragraph 10 of resolution 687 - principally not to reacquire banned capabilities - in accordance with the plan prepared by the Special Commission and approved by the Security Council in its resolution 715 of 1991.

In the pursuit of the first two tasks, by the end of December 1998, the Commission had fielded more than 250 inspection missions.

The inspections undertaken had to be energetic, rigorous and intrusive because of the failure of Iraq to adopt the candid and open approach to the full, final and complete disclosure of all aspects of its weapons programmes called for in Security Council resolutions 687 and 707. Despite the obstacles placed in the way by Iraq, the Commission was able to compile much information about Iraq's capabilities and facilities of concern to it and destroyed large amounts of proscribed weapons and facilities.

The third stage of the Commission's mandate represented its long-term operation. Its main purpose was to monitor and verify Iraq's compliance with its unconditional obligation not to use, retain possess, develop, construct or otherwise acquire any weapons or related items prohibited under section C of resolution 687.

As requested in that resolution, the Secretary-General and the IAEA Director General prepared and submitted to the Security Council two separate but closely co-ordinated plans for compliance monitoring. By approving these plans, under its resolution 715 of 11 October 1991, the Council mandated the Special Commission to implement the plan for ongoing monitoring and verification of permitted chemical, biological and ballistic missile activities. The Council also requested the Commission to assist and co-operate with IAEA in the implementation of the plan for ongoing monitoring and verification in the nuclear field.

Under the plans, Iraq was obliged to provide, on a regular basis, full, complete, correct and timely information on activities, sites, facilities, material or other items, both military and civilian, that might be used for purposes prohibited under resolutions 687 and 707. Furthermore, the Special Commission had the right to carry out inspections, at any time and without hindrance, of any site, facility, activity, material or other items in Iraq. It could conduct unannounced inspections and inspections at short notice. It may inspect on the ground or by aerial surveillance any number of declared or designated sites or facilities.

Both plans entered into force immediately upon their approval by the Security Council on 11 October 1991. Despite the mandatory nature of the resolution adopting the plans, Iraq initially failed to state its recognition of or act upon its obligations under resolution 715 or the plans. On 27 June 1992, seven months after the Council resolution was adopted, Iraq gave the Commission initial declarations concerning non-nuclear activities which need to be monitored. Iraq finally accepted the terms of resolution 715 in late 1993.


Return to the Top of Document.



Paragraph 7 of Security Council resolution 715 of 1991 called for the development of a mechanism for monitoring sales or supplies by other countries to Iraq of dual use items that might have applications in weapons programmes prohibited to Iraq. This was seen as being an essential element of the Commission's overall efforts to monitor Iraq's compliance with its obligations not to reacquire banned weapons capabilities.

Following discussions, Security Council resolution 1051 approving the mechanism was adopted unanimously on 27 March 1996. The mechanism entered into force on 1 October 1996.

The mechanism involves a system of notification by both Iraq and the exporting country of dual use items to be supplied to Iraq. The mechanism is not a licensing system. Rather, Iraq had to inform a joint unit, comprising the Commission and the IAEA, of its intention to import dual use items as defined in the annexes to the Commission and IAEA plans for monitoring and verification. The exporting country is obliged inter alia to notify contracts to export such items and, once the details are known, on the contract number, the date of shipment, the point of entry into Iraq and the end user in Iraq. Upon arrival of the goods, Iraq is obliged to notify the joint unit of receipt. Under the system, monitoring groups would then inspect the imported items at the site of end use to assess their purpose, to tag and inventory them as necessary, and to incorporate the items into the monitoring plan for that site to ensure they are not used in prohibited weapons programmes.

The resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, thereby making the requirement to notify such exports an obligation on all states.

Under the mechanism, any country, which becomes aware of attempts by Iraq to acquire proscribed items would also be required to report such attempts. Proscribed items or dual-purpose items imported for proscribed activities would be subject to destruction under the terms of resolution 687. The assumption being that imports of dual-purpose items not declared by Iraq were for proscribed purposes.

 Return to the Top of Document.



The Special Commission's operations were planned and managed under the direction of the Executive Chairman in New York. The staff there included technical experts, analysts, data processors, logistics personnel as well as political/diplomatic and administrative support staff. The Bahrain office served as the assembly and training point for inspection teams as well as a logistics and supply point, while the Baghdad office provided the required communications and logistical support in the field. The Baghdad office, the Baghdad Monitoring and Verification Centre (BMVC), was responsible for the maintenance and operation of the monitoring system and also housed Baghdad-based inspection teams.



The Special Commission was not financed from Member States assessed contributions to the United Nations. In accordance with resolution 699 of 1999, the costs of its operations are, ultimately, to be borne by the Government of Iraq. However, during the early years of its operations, the cash requirements of the Commission were met through funds released from the escrow account established under Security Council resolution 778 for the receipt of Iraqi frozen assets. In addition, the Commission received some voluntary contributions from a number of States.

Security Council resolution 986 of 1995, which authorises the sale Iraqi oil to pay for the import of humanitarian supplies also allowed for some of the funds realised to be used to meet the current operating costs of the Special Commission. Iraq accepted the provisions of the resolution in November 1996. Iraq began to export limited quantities of oil in December 1996 and funds were available to the Commission from that time.

The Commission's operating costs have been approximately $25 - 30 million per year.



The Commission's cash requirements came in addition to the generous assistance provided by Governments through the provision of aircraft, facilities, equipment, materials and expert personnel. If given a monetary value, this "in-kind" assistance amounted to approximately twice that of the Commission's cash expenditures.

Member States and the United Nations Secretariat provided the Commission staff. Inspection teams consisted of personnel made available by Governments, members of the Commission, the United Nations Secretariat, and, in the nuclear field, inspectors and staff of the IAEA.

The inspectors were selected on the basis of their technical qualifications and expertise, with due regard to drawing them from as many Member States as possible within the range of available capabilities and experience. By the end of 1999, more than one thousand individuals from over 40 countries had served on inspection teams.


 Return to the Top of Document.

Click here to Return to Main Menu

United Nations Special Commission - New York, N.Y.