BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION REVIEW CONFERENCE CONCLUDES SECOND DAY OF GENERAL DEBATE
Holds Informal Meeting and Hears Statements from 19 Non-Governmental Organizations
6 December 2011
The Seventh Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction this afternoon concluded the second day of its general debate. It also held an informal meeting and heard statements from 19 non-governmental organizations.
During the general debate, speakers said that the promotion of Confidence Building Measures was one of the crucial points of this three-week Conference. Several speakers also supported continuing the intersessional meetings that had proven very useful. Speakers called upon all States that had not yet joined the Convention to do so soon. There was great merit in conducting more frequent assessments of ongoing scientific and technological developments and to working to ensure that the Convention could keep pace with these rapid developments. Moreover, it was necessary that all States parties reviewed their laws from time to time to ensure that they were adequate to the threat posed.
The States that took the floor were Kuwait, Ireland and Colombia. The Conference also heard statements from the World Organization for Animal Health, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The general debate was then suspended and the Review Conference held an informal meeting to allow delegations to hear statements from 19 non-governmental organizations.
The Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 December to hear statements from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the Secretary of State of the United States. It will then conclude its general debate and hold a meeting of the Committee of the Whole, to be followed by an informal plenary.
ZEYAD ALMASHA'N (Kuwait) said that the Review Conference was taking place at a time of considerable changes in the Middle East. The Biological Weapons Convention was key to international peace and security and hopefully the Review Conference would be successful in its efforts. The promotion of Confidence Building Measures was one of the crucial issues of the Review Conference during the next three weeks and Kuwait supported this. Kuwait also supported continuing the intersessional meetings and discussions. Kuwait would like to call upon all States that had not yet joined the Convention to do so soon. Kuwait had never tried to acquire biological weapons and never would.
GERARD CORR (Ireland) said Ireland had been a proponent of multilateral instruments of non-proliferation and disarmament from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to more recent instruments such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions. There was great merit in conducting more frequent assessments of ongoing scientific and technological developments and to working to ensure that the Biological Weapons Convention could keep pace with rapid developments. Ireland was committed to the implementation of article X of the Convention and had contributed to the European Union’s working paper on assistance under article X. Ireland would continue to support initiatives and projects aimed at capacity building in the areas of disease detection, surveillance, diagnosis and infectious disease containment.
Ireland was committed to promoting the universality of the Convention and to supporting effective national implementation. In 2011, Ireland adopted new legislation governing the production, stockpiling and use of biological weapons. The Biological Weapons Act made it an offence to develop, produce or use a biological agent or toxin for a hostile purpose, or to stockpile, acquire, possess, retain or transfer to another purpose a biological agent or toxin for a hostile purpose. The Act had strengthened Irish law in the context of the potential threat posed by non-State actors, in particular terrorist groups. It was only right that all States parties should review their laws from time to time to ensure that they were adequate to the threat posed; this Act had demonstrated Ireland’s continuing commitment to ensuring that the objectives of the 1972 Convention were met.
KEITH HAMILTON (World Organization for Animal Health) said that the World Organization for Animal Health was founded in 1924 to respond to animal disease at a global level. Owing to their impact and because they were cheap and easy to acquire, propagate and smuggle through borders, animal pathogens made ideal bio-weapons. 2011 was an important year because the world had gotten rid of rinderpest. The World Organization for Animal Health thanked the Biological Weapons Convention for the ongoing support and collaboration to its activities.
PETER HERBY (International Committee of the Red Cross) said that for nearly a decade the International Committee of the Red Cross had promoted a broad-based approach to preventing the hostile uses of biology, an approach often referred to as a ‘web of prevention’. In the current context of rapid developments in the life sciences and a multiplicity of actors with access to sensitive agents, it was only such a broad-based approach that would serve the Convention’s purpose to exclude completely the possibility of biological agents and toxins being used as weapons. Since 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross had begun to develop a capacity to mount a response in the event of the use, threat of use or alleged use of nuclear, radiological biological or chemical weapons. The three objectives of such a response were: to assure the health, safety and security of Red Cross personnel; to permit the continued presence and activities of the Red Cross in a suspected or actual contaminated environment; and to assist the affected victims.
The Convention required an improved means to review scientific and technological developments. Advances in life sciences and widespread access to biotechnologies had provided an opportunity for more robust defenses against the deliberate spread of disease; however these developments could make poisoning and the deliberate spread of disease easier, more lethal, and more difficult to detect. The Convention should establish a mechanism to ensure regular and structured reviews and to assess developments in science and technology so that the benefits to the Convention could be maximized and the risks minimized. There was a need for States parties to increase their efforts to educate life scientists. A widespread lack of awareness still existed among scientists of their legal and ethical responsibilities. This Review Conference presented an opportunity to refocus attention on the core issue of monitoring and assessing compliance with the Convention. It was important to not lose sight of the need for ensuring that the Convention had the means necessary for States parties to adequately monitor and assess compliance with the Convention.
LENNIN HERNANDEZ ALARCON (Colombia) said that Colombia was committed to disarmament and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. This Review Conference was an excellent opportunity of improving the Biological Weapons Convention. Colombia signalled the importance of the universalization of the Convention and of the implementation of the Convention at the national level. International cooperation was also key and Colombia wanted to reiterate its strong interest in contributing to this Conference.
JACEK BYLICA (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) said that the 29 Nations of the NATO-Russia Council confirmed the high value of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the work of the Biological Weapons Convention Seventh Review Conference, and their intention to work to strengthen the implementation of the Convention and its universalization.
Informal Meeting with Non-Governmental Organizations
GRAHAM PEARSON, of University of Bradford Division of Peace Studies, said that there several realistic outcomes that could be achieved by this Review Conference. First, the Conference should reaffirm the basic prohibition of the Convention that biological weapons were totally prohibited. Second, the Conference should set a target towards universality of 190 States parties by the time of the Eighth Review Conference. Third, the Conference should agree on an action plan to ensure that all States parties had adopted national legislation, including penal legislation. Fourth, States parties should agree on a further intersessional programme between 2011 and 2016 in 2012 to 2015 of annual meetings of States parties prepared by standing working groups that would address three areas: advances in science and technology in specific areas relevant to the Convention; an improved Confidence Building Measures regime; and confidence in compliance.
NICHOLAS SIMS, of London School of Economics and Political Science, said that the London School of Economics and Political Science had chosen five areas in which to encourage the Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference to reach agreement. The Implementation Support Unit had proved itself a successful innovation. But States needed to be realistic about the tasks allocated and the resources required for the effective fulfillment of those tasks. Also, the intersessional process should be filled more productively; it needed to be reshaped. In addition, the content of the information exchanged through Confidence Building Measures should be revisited. Scientific and technological developments needed ongoing assessments. Finally, the steps to be taken before the next Review Conference in 2016 needed to be identified.
KATHRYN NIXDORFF, of International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility, said the International Network was encouraged to see that many States parties representing a wide global distribution as well as professional organizations had recognized the need for a more analytical, systematical approach to assessing the relevance of advances in science and technology for the Biological Weapons Convention. Several studies had clearly shown that the majority of those active in life sciences were unaware of their responsibilities and therefore there was an urgent need for dual-use ethics education programmes. States parties should take steps to provide annual reports on the steps that they had taken nationally to improve education and outreach as part of their submissions under the Confidence Building Measures. A Working Group composed of Government experts, scientists from civil society institutions and representatives of industry should be established to carry out a structured, analytical and systematic review of science and technology developments of relevance to the Convention within the framework of a new intersessional process 2012-2015.
ANDRZEJ GORSKI, of Bio-security Working Group of the Inter-Academy Panel on International Issues: the Global Network of Science Academies, said that scientists and scientific organizations had a role to play in the effective national and international implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention. Two activities of the Network that were particularly relevant to the deliberations of the Conference were the advances in sciences and technology, and education and awareness-raising. An international steering committee had prepared a report on science and technology, focusing amongst others on the rapid pace of change in the life sciences, and the increasing diffusion of life sciences research capacities and its applications. Concerning education, the Network had held a workshop with more than 60 participants from almost 30 countries about the expansion of education about dual use issues.
MASAMICHI MINEHATA, of National Defense Medical College of Japan, in a joint statement with the University of Bradford, said they recommended that this Review Conference address how best to ensure that those engaged in the life sciences were aware of their obligations and responsibilities under the Biological Weapons Convention. Action was needed by both States parties and civil society to together improve the awareness and education of those engaged in the life sciences and to quickly develop best practices that could be declared by States parties in amended Confidence Building Measures regarding their national implementation of article IV. There was much that civil society and the life science community could do to help raise the level of awareness and education of all those engaged in the life sciences, thereby strengthening the implementation of the Convention through the establishment of a culture of responsibility by all those engaged in the life sciences, whether in Government, industry or academia.
SCOTT SPENCE, of Verification Research, Training and Information Centre, said that the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre had been highly engaged in the work of the Biological Weapons Convention for many years, and they had accelerated their contribution to the most recent intersessional process through their National Implementation Measures Programme. Since 2008, they had provided direct legal assistance to over 20 countries in all regions of the world, with several draft laws currently in national assemblies, and they were working with others to adhere to the Convention. The Verification Research, Training and Information Centre advocated robust legislative frameworks – and their effective enforcement – as a first-line defense against bio-crimes and the proliferation of biological weapons. The Verification Research, Training and Information Centre called on the Conference to take a strong decision on national implementation, on universality, on enhancing transparency and on confidence building.
JAMES REVILL, of Harvard Sussex Programme on Chemical and Biological Weapons, said that over the past 20 years the Biological Weapons Convention had been exposed to shocks from the external geopolitical environment. Understanding the implications of new developments in the life sciences and related areas of technology was an essential task for States parties. The prevention of the development, acquisition and use of biological and toxin weapons required a thorough understanding of the nature of disease and of the properties of the biological agents and toxins that caused it. The consideration of science and technology potentially relevant for the Convention should be explored using a holistic framework. There was a continued convergence between the life sciences and chemistry which had implications for both the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention. Joint exchanges of experiences and joint technical reviews could be helpful to understand how convergence affected the implementation of both Conventions. More frequent examination of the new developments in science and technology should be considered by States parties.
TIM TREVAN, of International Council for the Life Sciences, said that the mission of the International Council for the Life Sciences was to help promote and advance global public health, safety and security. To this end, the Council sought to safeguard opportunities to conduct research and apply advances in the life sciences for the practical benefit of society by promoting best practices, standards and codes of conduct, so ensuring the responsible pursuit of science. Networks could be effective in mitigating biological risks where there was a convergence of interests because they could, amongst others, provide access to expertise and reference data that would otherwise not be available, and respond directly to local challenges and be very cost-efficient. There were particular areas where civic networks may be able to act more effectively than governments, such as for multidisciplinary issues, international coordination and cooperation, and for issues where normal structures had reached their limits, such as when governmental infrastructure had failed due to civil war.
IRIS HUNGER, of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said that the capacity of the Biological Weapons Convention regime to strengthen compliance and verification could be improved through consultation on science and technology assessments and the sharing of best practices on science and technology evaluations. It would be desirable for the Convention regime to have a consultative or similar mechanism in order to consider the implications of science and technology developments affecting both the Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Implementation Support Unit represented an important element of support capacity to the Convention regime, including with respect to supporting any further intersessional processes and the facilitation of consultation and other interactions among the Member States, academia, industry, non-governmental organizations and civil society.
GUNNAR JEREMIAS, of Research Group for Biological Arms Control, said that the Research Group for Biological Arms Control had come to Geneva with great expectations. It wished to see the Biological Weapons Convention coming out of this important conference a stronger, more reliable treaty, having been set on a steady path towards comprehensiveness and modernization. But what would make the Biological Weapons Convention more reliable, comprehensive and modern? The main task of the Convention was to prevent States from using their biological capabilities to develop weapons. While relatively little concern about the development of biological weapons by States existed at the moment, this could change in the future. Therefore, the Research Group believed that the Biological Weapons Convention most urgently needed a mechanism to assess compliance. What needed to be clarified was intent.
MARK JOHNSON, of MJ Lawrence Consulting, said that many States parties lacked medical counter-measures for responding to a bio-terrorist attack. Whilst the level of probability that such an attack might occur remained low, the medical counter-measures required to respond to such an incident were expensive to develop and involved a lengthy process until they could be ready for use. If States parties were to be prepared, they should engage in a dialogue with industry on how to ensure that preparedness was improved and how this work could be financed. Each Member State should be able to access the required amounts and types of medical counter-measures in case of an incident involving high risk chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials; and assess the possibility of sharing medical counter-measures across borders in case of an incident. Industry was waiting for States parties around the world to clearly communicate which corresponding medical counter-measures would be needed as part of their preparedness plans to counter possible bio-terrorist attacks. Supply could not simply be turned on when Governments were ready to receive and dialogue alone would not be sufficient to create industry response to international demand. In many cases, Governments would have to find ways to encourage businesses to develop and make medical counter-measures readily available.
CHRISTINE ROHDE, of Global Biological Resource Centre Network, said that the Centre especially endorsed the outcome of the Meeting of States Parties in 2008 when they recognized that bio-safety and bio-security measures contributed to preventing the development, acquisition or use of biological and toxin weapons and were an appropriate means of implementing the Convention. In order to take such measures, it was necessary to enhance awareness and create a bio-security-conscious culture. The problem in the life sciences was the dual-use potential of bio-resources, associated data and know-how. Adequate preventive measures helped avoid reactive measures. States parties should agree to adopt a code of conduct for their national microbial resource collections and other institutions in the life sciences. Also, States parties should activate and involve their legal authorities in a top-down process of communication with their life-science institutions.
KATHRYN MCLAUGHLIN, of Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said that Africa, perhaps more than any other continent, was experiencing the impact of naturally occurring diseases almost daily, particularly on vulnerable populations in States where health care facilities were seldom equipped to deal effectively and efficiently with disease outbreaks. Africa was also the region where more could and should be done with regard to improving scientific research and diagnostic facilitates and where bio-safety measures remained insufficient and under-resourced. Currently, 37 out of 54 African countries were States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention, a relatively low number of ratifying States in contrast to the near universalization of the Chemical Weapons Convention in Africa. This raised the need to strengthen the resources of the Implementing Support Unit both in terms of staffing but more importantly in terms of its ability to match expressed needs with offers of support and assistance and to monitor such relationships between cooperating States. Africa’s primary concern was the risk posed by naturally occurring infectious and other disease outbreaks, particularly African viral haemorrhagic fevers and the public and private sector’s ability to mitigate and respond to them. More needed to be done to facilitate the bringing together of delegates from national public health and veterinary laboratories in regional or sub-regional meetings that were aimed at fostering the safe, efficient and secure use of pathogens for human and animal health.
JANET PHELAN, of ITHACA, human rights agency, said they had submitted concerns to the Review Conference that the United States was engaged in an offensive biological weapons programme. Their research indicated that these weapons may have been stockpiled at Sierra Army Depot, which was a military base in Northern California, as well as possibly at other locations. In 2001, in the wake of the attacks of September 11, the United States passed a piece of legislation which in itself constituted a violation of articles I, II and IV of the Biological Weapons Convention. It gave the United States a blank check to stockpile biological weapons and toxins and de facto removed the United States from the stipulations contained in the Biological Weapons Convention. Also, the water systems had been reconfigured to accommodate a double line water system that could allow biological or chemical substances to be selectively introduced into pre-designated households. The international community must be alerted to the fact that all of these signals pointed to a future attack within the borders of the United States, facilitated by the United States Government.
BRAD GOBLE, of International Federation of Bio-safety Associations, said that the International Federation of Bio-safety Associations was a global community of research scientists, bio-safety professionals, laboratory personnel, non-governmental organizations, academics and policy makers from around the world who recognized that bio-safety and bio-security were important elements within the framework of biological non-proliferation and the strengthening of global security. Over the last years this community had grown to over 50 bio-safety associations and organizations representing virtually every geographic region of the globe. There was growing recognition of the synergies between the Federation of Bio-safety Associations and the Biological Weapons Convention. Bio-safety associations were focused on strengthening the profession of bio-safety, while the Convention aimed at preventing disease from being used to deliberately cause harm. With resource constraints being a constant challenge for all, working together not only made sense, it was critical for future success. The bio-safety community could act as a useful bridge between Governments and the private sector and could become an influential partner in generating greater buy-in and encouraging closer engagement within the framework of the Convention.
GRAHAM PEARSON, of Steering Committee of the Pugwash Study Group, said that States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention should take steps to provide high level leadership and a sustained committed attention to universalization throughout the intersessional period to the Eighth Review Conference and for reports on progress to be made not only to the annual meetings of States parties but also to the Eighth Review Conference. It was becoming clear that for the next intersessional period there would be advantages in supporting the annual meetings by standing working groups on subjects such as science and technology, on Confidence Building Measures, and on compliance with all the provisions of the Convention. States parties should adopt an action plan with an interim target that two thirds of the States parties to the Convention should have adopted effective national implementation legislation by the time of the Eighth Review Conference. There should be some modifications to the existing Confidence Building Mechanisms. The implementation of article X should be considered during the intersessional period as one of the priority issues with a view to identifying ways and means of fostering international cooperation in the peaceful applications of biology relevant to the Convention. There should be an agreement on the continuation of the Implementation Support Unit which should be given an appropriate mandate and resources to carry out decisions that would be taken in the Final Document of the Seventh Review Conference.
ALI AKBAR MOHAMMADI, of Ferdous International Foundation and Global Health and Security Consultants, said that communicable diseases caused by infectious agents continued to be the major cause of illness, incapacity and death among human beings and animals. Unfortunately, many developing countries involved in the outbreak of infectious diseases lacked efficient capability to respond properly and effectively to such outbreaks. There was an increasing concern about the possible misuse of dual use pathogens and toxins and development of biological weapons as a means of causing harm, incapacitation or death in a population which if not managed properly, may end up with high consequences in the communities. Therefore, Ferdous International Foundation and Global Health and Security Consultants had given their first priority in assisting these countries to strengthen their national capacity to adequately prevent and respond to the threats posed by biological risks. They emphasized the responsibility of all Member States, in particular those with financial resources, to help the low resource and developing countries in implementation of such programmes towards the establishment of better national capacity. The strategy should be think globally, plan nationally.
AMY SMITHSON, of James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies, said there was a strong collective interest in strengthening the compliance provisions of the Biological Weapons Convention. The worldwide public was depending on the States parties to spare no effort in making sure that norms against biological weapons were policed and upheld. United Nations Special Commission biological inspections in Iraq should not be judged by the political-military setting in which they took place as this experience could provide vital assistance to the Convention’s States parties in understanding the capabilities and limitations of inspections of dual-use biological facilities. A way should be found for the Convention’s States parties to restart a dialogue about verification, to learn from applicable historical experience and to explore options feasible in the twenty-first century to strengthen the compliance provisions of the Biological Weapons Convention. A reasonable start would be the establishment of a working group to consider these matters, a VEREX-II type of an approach.
TREVOR GRIFFITHS, of Pax Christi, said Pax Christi would like to remind the international community that it had the “responsibility to protect” the security of all people. By applying the “responsibility to protect” to bio-security, bio-threats would be encompassed. The international community should take all possible precautions to prevent States or terrorist groups or individuals from obtaining or using such weapons. The Biological Weapons Convention was the main instrument of international law to achieve this protection. The Member States were urged to address the universalization of the Convention, the importance of the intersessional process, the Confidence Building Measures, international cooperation and assistance, compliance and verification.
For use of the information media; not an official record