States Parties Reach Common Understandings on International Cooperation and Assistance, Review of Developments in Science and Technology, and Strengthening National Implementation of the Treaty
16 December 2013
States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) have concluded the 2013 Meeting of States Parties which was held at the United Nations Office at Geneva from 9 to 13 December. The meeting was chaired by Ms. Judit Körömi, Special Representative of the Foreign Minister for Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation of Hungary, with the support of two Vice-Chairs, Ambassador Urs Schmid of Switzerland and Ambassador Mazlan Muhammad of Malaysia. The meeting brought together nearly 500 participants from 105 countries, including over 200 experts from government agencies and international organizations such as Interpol, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). A range of non-governmental organizations and academic experts also attended the meeting.
Closing the meeting on 13 December, the Chairman expressed her satisfaction with the way the meeting had run during the week: “We had interactive and lively discussions, in a constructive and cooperative manner. Delegations demonstrated both their interest in the topics and their respect for each other, while pursuing common understanding on practical measures to strengthen the operation of the Convention.”
The Meeting developed and consolidated the work of the Meeting of Experts (12-16 August 2013), and reached common understandings on:
· International cooperation and assistance – how States Parties can work together to build relevant capacity;
· Ways and means to strengthen national implementation of the convention – how States Parties work domestically to prevent disease being used as a weapon;
· Review of developments in the field of science and technology relevant to the BWC – how States Parties keep up with the rapid pace of advances in the life sciences and their implications for the Convention;
· Enabling fuller participation in the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) – how States Parties can better exchange information to increase transparency and build confidence in compliance.
On cooperation and assistance, States Parties reached a broad range of new understandings, including on:
· The value of developing and facilitating twinning programmes and other means of international exchange in education and training for capacity building and sharing of advanced expertise and for improving global capacity for disease detection and control;
· The importance of promoting interagency coordination and multi-sectoral cooperation to prepare for, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks;
· The importance of coordination with relevant international and regional organizations and other relevant stakeholders.
The Chair highlighted some key points that were discussed by delegations: “To address the challenges and obstacles to developing international cooperation and assistance, states should pursue a long-term, sustainable and systematic approach. It is also important that requesting countries provide a thorough explanation of their needs and define in specific terms the type of support that could best address those needs.”
On developments in science and technology, States Parties reviewed a broad range of developments, identified and discussed those with potential benefits for the Convention and others with potential for uses contrary to the provisions of the BWC. Australia, for example, highlighted the challenges that the world is facing: “it is incumbent on us now to engage critically, creatively and practically with the key challenges confronting the BWC: the realities of rapid scientific and technological developments and the increasing globalization of the biotechnology sector. To address these challenges, we need to forge a new cooperative approach whereby we share our expertise and knowledge, strengthen our approaches to national implementation, and build confidence across regions and blocs, while harnessing the many benefits for humanity that these science et technology developments bring.”
Concepts such as the responsible conduct of science were discussed, as an overarching theme to be promoted in States’ efforts on education and awareness-raising about risks and benefits of life sciences and biotechnology. There was a shared recognition of the valuable contribution of associated stakeholders in science, academia and industry to the work of States Parties and the importance of continuing to encourage them to participate in the intersessional programme.
On strengthening national implementation, States Parties demonstrated a willingness to find ways to improve how they work domestically. Delegations shared the view that, while they should take into account differences in national circumstances and legal and constitutional processes, there were many common responsibilities in the area of national implementation. The Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking on behalf of the Group of the Non Aligned Movement and Other States, for example, highlighted that “There are diverse national situations for each of the States Parties but their commitments and obligations under the Convention are the same.” The Group also noted that it is important that States Parties continue "…to learn from each other by sharing national experiences in the implementation of the Convention, and to collectively think about ways and means to enhance national implementation, including through regional and sub-regional cooperation".
On the Confidence-building measures, States Parties discussed how to increase participation in the annual exchanges of information and identified common understandings, including:
· The value of regional seminars and workshops to promote awareness of annual exchange of information and to provide an opportunity for States to report on their difficulties and needs for assistance.
· The importance of States Parties actively encouraging those not participating to do so and to share information on the specific reasons on why they do not participate; and
· The possibility of making the annual reports available in more UN languages.
The meeting also considered progress towards universalizaton of the Convention, and welcomed the four new States Parties that joined the BWC in 2013 – Cameroon, Nauru, Guyana and Malawi – bringing the total number of States Parties to 170. The Chairman urged states that are not party to join the Convention, highlighting the role of the BWC as one of the main pillar of the international community's efforts against weapons of mass destruction. Ms. Körömi also encouraged the States Parties to promote the Convention and to provide assistance to states that are trying to join the BWC.
The BWC intersessional programme will continue in 2014. The Meeting of Experts will be held in Geneva from 4 to 8 August 2014 and the Meeting of States Parties from 1 to 5 December 2014. Ambassador Urs Schmid of Switzerland was elected as Chairman of the 2014 meetings, with Ambassador Mazlan Muhammad of Malaysia and Ms. Judit Körömi, Special Representative of the Foreign Minister of Hungary for Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation, appointed as Vice-chairs.
The Meeting of States Parties is part of a four-year intersessional programme mandated by the 2011 Seventh Review Conference of the BWC aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Convention and improving its effectiveness as a practical barrier against the development or use of biological weapons. The BWC prohibits the development, production and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons. More formally referred to as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, the treaty opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. It currently has 170 States Parties, with a further 10 States having signed but not yet ratified.
For further information, please contact:
Mr. Richard Lennane
Head, BWC Implementation Support Unit
Tel: +41 (0)22 917 22 30
Fax: +41 (0)22 917 04 83
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