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Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention

Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention

Fifth Review Conference of States Parties to Biological Weapons Convention to be held in Geneva: States Parties to Meet from 19 November to 7 December 2001. Source: UN Press Release, Geneva, November 15, 2001.

The Fifth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction will be held in Geneva from 19 November to 7 December 2001. The Convention, commonly known as the Biological Weapons Convention, prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and acquisition of biological and toxin weapons. It has 144 States Parties.

The Review Conference will be held against a background of heightened global concern about the threat of biological agents (such as anthrax) being used as weapons. At the Conference, the States Parties will review the operation of the Convention to examine whether its purposes and provisions are being realized, and will consider proposals to strengthen the treaty. Previous Review Conferences were held in 1980, 1986, 1991 and 1996, and each looked at how the Convention was performing in light of the evolving global security situation, continuing developments in biotechnology, and other relevant factors. Pursuant to Article XII of the Convention, the Fourth Review Conference recommended that conferences of States Parties to review the operation of the Convention should be held at least every five years.

The results of the Fifth Review Conference will be contained in a Final Declaration to be adopted at the end of the Conference.

Preparations for the Fifth Review Conference

The Preparatory Committee for the Fifth Review Conference, which met in Geneva from 25 to 27 April 2001, made recommendations on questions of organization, election of officers, draft rules of procedure and provisional agenda of the Conference.

Officers of the Review Conference

The Preparatory Committee recommended that Ambassador Tibor Tóth of Hungary should preside over the Conference. Following similar recommendations from the Preparatory Committee, Ambassador Markku Reimaa of Finland has been nominated to chair the Committee of the Whole, and Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan has been nominated to chair the Drafting Committee. For the Credentials Committee, the recommendation is that the Chairman be nominated from the Group of Non-Aligned and Other States. Mr Enrique Roman-Morey, Director of the Geneva Branch of the UN Department for Disarmament Affairs, has been nominated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as Secretary-General of the Conference. (All these appointments are provisional and will be confirmed by the Conference at its opening session.)

Provisional Agenda for Review Conference

The Preparatory Committee recommended a provisional agenda for the Fifth Review Conference which includes, inter alia, three substantive items: a review of the operation of the Convention as provided for in its Article XII; consideration of issues identified in the review of Article XII contained in the Final Declaration of the Fourth Review Conference and possible follow-up action; and consideration of the work done to strengthen the Convention in accordance with the decision of the 1994 Special Conference (that is, the work of the Ad Hoc Group B see below).

Background Documentation

Among the documents before the Review Conference is a background information document prepared by the Secretariat providing, in summary tabular form, data on the participation of the States Parties in the agreed confidence-building measures since the last Review Conference (BWC/CONF.V/2); a background information document on compliance by the States Parties with all their obligations under the Convention (BWC/CONF.V/3); and a background paper on new scientific and technological developments relevant to the Convention (BWC/CONF.V/4). These documents are available from the United Nations website.

Biological Weapons Convention B Summary

Opened for signature on 10 April 1972 and entering into force on 26 March 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention is the first international treaty to ban an entire class of weapons. It prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and acquisition of biological and toxin weapons and thus supplements the prohibition on use of biological weapons contained in the 1925 Geneva Protocol. The Biological Weapons Convention, commended by the General Assembly on 16 December 1971 in Resolution 2826 (XXVI), was drawn up on the basis of work carried out by the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament, a multilateral negotiating body that later became the Conference on Disarmament. The Convention has been ratified by 144 States, with a further 18 having signed but not yet ratified. The depositary Governments are the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Under Article I of the Convention, States Parties undertake 'never in any circumstances to develop, produce or otherwise acquire or retain: microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protection or other peaceful purposes; weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.'

Under Article II, States Parties undertake 'to destroy or to divert for peaceful purposes', not later than nine months after the Convention's entry into force, all biological agents, toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery which are in their possession or under their jurisdiction or control.

Article III provides that States Parties undertake 'not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever, directly or indirectly, and not in any way to assist, encourage or induce any State, group of States or international organizations to manufacture or otherwise acquire' any of the materials or means of delivery dealt with by the Convention.

Under Article IV, States Parties, agree to undertake any necessary measures to prohibit or prevent within their territory or in places under their jurisdiction or control, the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention of the materials and means of delivery dealt with by the Convention.

Article V provides that States Parties 'undertake to consult one another and to cooperate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the objective of, or in the application of the provisions of, the Convention' and that consultation and cooperation may also be undertaken within the framework of the United Nations.

Article VI provides that 'Any State Party to this Convention which finds that any other State Party is acting in breach of obligations deriving from the provisions of the Convention may lodge a complaint with the Security Council of the United Nations'. Further, each State Party 'undertakes to cooperate in carrying out any investigation which the Security Council may initiate, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.'

Under Article VII, States Parties undertake to provide or support assistance to any State Party which so requests, if the Security Council decides that such a Party has been exposed to danger as a result of violation of the Convention.

Article VIII states that nothing in the Convention shall be interpreted as in any way limiting or detracting from the obligations assumed by any State under the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.

By Article IX, each State Party 'affirms the recognized objective of effective prohibition of chemical weapons' and, to that end, undertakes to continue negotiations in good faith to reach early agreement on effective measures to prohibit their development, production and stockpiling and to work for their destruction. (Note: this Article has been effectively superseded by the successful conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in April 1997.)

States Parties, under Article X, 'undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technical information for the use of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes'. The Convention, the Article continues, 'shall be implemented in a manner designed to avoid hampering the economic or technological development of States Parties...or international cooperation in the field of peaceful bacteriological (biological) activities, including the international exchange of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins and equipment for the processing, use or production of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes in accordance with the provisions of the Convention.'

Other Articles of the Convention deal with amendments (Article XI); duration of the Convention and right to withdraw from it (Article XIII); signature, ratification or accession, and entry into force (Article XIV); and depositary governments (Article XV).

Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention

Work on a strengthened compliance and verification regime for the Convention has been the focus of multilateral negotiations since the Third Review Conference in 1991. At that time, the States Parties decided to establish an Ad Hoc Group of Governmental Experts to Identify and Examine Potential Verification Measures from a Scientific and Technical Standpoint (known as the 'VEREX' group). The resulting report of the group was considered at a Special Conference of States Parties to the Convention in September 1994 in Geneva. As a result, the Special Conference agreed to establish a further Ad Hoc Group with a mandate to draft proposals to be included in a legally-binding instrument to be submitted for the consideration of the States Parties. Between 1995 and August 2001, the Ad Hoc Group held 24 negotiating sessions in an effort to fulfill its mandate by negotiating a Protocol to the Convention. However, the 24th session of the Ad Hoc Group ended in August 2001 with States Parties unable to reach agreement on a draft protocol text to be submitted to the Fifth Review Conference.

States Parties to the Convention

The Biological Weapons Convention has been ratified or acceded to by the following 144 States: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

For further information on the Review Conference:

  • Any further information with regard to the Fifth Review Conference should be addressed to: Richard Lennane, Political Affairs Officer, Secretary of the Fifth Review Conference, Office No.: E1060 Tel. 9177153 Fax. 9170352 -- E-mail: rlennane@hotmail.com

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).