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Chemical Weapons Expert’s Statement on Poisoning of Alexei Navalny

The German government announced Wednesday that testing of a poison used against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had revealed “proof without doubt of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group,” a group of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.  

In light of this evidence, Physicians for Human Rights calls for a thorough, independent, international investigation and accountability for this act.

The following statement is attributable to Alastair Hay, PhD, OBE, professor emeritus of environmental toxicology, University of Leeds, and Advisory Council member, Physicians for Human Rights. Dr. Hay has researched chemical and biological weapons for nearly 40 years.

“The news about use of a Novichok agent to poison Mr. Navalny is highly disturbing. The specific Novichok used has not yet been named. But all of the Novichok family of chemicals are extremely toxic and have no other use than to harm someone.

Novichok chemicals were investigated by a German military lab as potential chemical weapons. Their possession, other than tiny quantities for developing treatments, assay systems, and defense measures, is illegal. All quantities of Novichoks held by governments must be declared and stocks inventoried.

From what information is in the public domain, Novichoks were made and researched in the former Soviet Union and then in Russia. But details are sparse. The use of a Novichok chemical on Russian soil to poison Mr. Navalny should be of great concern to the Russian government, as the chemical ought to be controlled by Russia. So, many governments, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, will be expecting a thorough, independent investigation, and helpful answers.

As we know from the 2018 attacks on the Skripals in Salisbury, UK, anyone poisoned by Novichoks is in grave danger. Indeed, one woman, Dawn Sturgess, died from inadvertent exposure to the same Novichok some months after the Skripals were poisoned. It is reassuring, therefore, to learn that Mr. Navalny appears to be recovering. He faces a difficult future, as the chemical poisoning will leave him much weakened and with psychological issues to overcome.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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