MEETING OF STATES PARTIES TO BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION CONCLUDES IN GENEVA
First year of new intersessional process reaches common understandings on international cooperation and assistance, review of developments in science and technology, and strengthening national implementation of the treaty
17 December 2012
States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) have concluded the 2012 Meeting of States Parties which was held at the United Nations Office at Geneva from 10 to 14 December. The meeting was chaired by Ambassador Boujemâa Delmi of Algeria, with the support of two Vice-Chairs, Ambassador Urs Schmid of Switzerland and Dr. Cezary Lusinski, of Poland. The meeting brought together nearly 500 participants from 107 countries, including almost 200 experts from government agencies and international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), 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 14 December, the Chairman expressed his satisfaction on the way the discussions had run smoothly during the week: “Delegates worked hard and the discussions have been held in a cordial atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect, and I thank all delegations for the very constructive approach they brought to the task”.
The Meeting developed and consolidated the work of the Meeting of Experts (16-20 July 2012), 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.
Building capacity through international cooperation and assistance
States Parties reached a broad range of new understandings, including on:
· The importance of coordination with international and regional bodies and stakeholder groups in targeting and mobilizing resources to address identified gaps and needs;
· Four ways to strengthen efforts to address challenges and overcome obstacles to international cooperation, such as developing more sustainable approaches to biosafety and biosecurity;
· Seven specific measures to further the implementation of obligations under the treaty on facilitating the peaceful use of biology and biotechnology, such as ensuring such measures enable technical exchange and cooperation, including developing national capacity to address biorisk management;
· Four areas in which national capacity could be strengthened to deal with disease, such as promoting collaborative research and development opportunities; and
· A shared commitment to domestic legislative, regulatory and policy arrangements to promote activities not prohibited by the BWC.
As the new common understandings demonstrate, there is broad support to further international cooperation and assistance under the treaty. Switzerland, for example, stated that it is “necessary to address the transnational challenges of modern biology. In an evolving, globalized world, no single country can prevent, detect and respond to all public health and security threats on its own.”
Developments in science and technology
The Meeting of States Parties also considered the implications of developments in science and technology. Ukraine, for example, highlighted the dual nature of this work, highlighting that "progress in modern biology… will further benefit mankind in the fields of medicine, agriculture, ecology, industry, the pharmaceutical industry and biotechnology in particular. Unfortunately, it may also bring biorisks from non-intentional or deliberate misuse of these developments."
States Parties reviewed a broad range of developments, focusing in particular on enabling technologies. States Parties identified four areas likely to benefit from such advances, including improved identification of agents for both public health and security purposes. States Parties also identified four possible ways that they could be used to cause deliberate harm, such as identifying new mechanisms to disrupt the healthy functioning of humans, animals and plants. There was a shared vision that the fullest possible exchange of such dual-use technologies should be facilitated where their use is fully consistent with the BWC.
The meeting of States Parties also identified:
· Six opportunities for maximising the benefits from enabling technologies while minimizing associated risks, such as improved use by relevant national agencies of available sequence and function data on pathogens;
· The importance of building and sustaining coordination between the BWC and the Chemical Weapons Convention in light of convergence amongst scientific disciplines;
· Six types of national measures for increasing awareness amongst scientists, academia and industry of the BWC and related laws and regulations, such as enabling specific outreach for those working outside of institutional research and commercial environments; and
· The value of continued input from stakeholders in science, academia and industry in the current intersessional programme.
From international obligations to effective national action
States Parties also demonstrated a willingness to find ways to improve how they work domestically. The Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking on behalf of the Group of the Non Aligned Movement and Other States, for example, highlighted 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".
New common understandings identified at the meeting, complementing those previously identified in 2003 and 2007, include:
· Strengthening regional and sub-regional engagement, such as for consideration of the topics covered by the current intersessional programme;
· Seven aspects of full and comprehensive implementation of the BWC, such as the importance of making appropriate use of national expertise outside of government; and
· Five approaches for strengthening national biorisk management capacity, including the value of national policies on how best to balance scientific freedom with legitimate security concerns.
Enhancing transparency and building trust
States Parties discussed how to increase participation in annual exchanges of information. States Parties identified common understandings on:
· Six ways in which to help address technical difficulties experienced in completing and submitting data, including further developing electronic means of submission;
· The importance of States Parties actively encouraging those not participating to do so; and
· The annual Chairman writing to States Parties to remind them to submit information.
Work in 2013
The Meeting discussed arrangements for the 2013 BWC Meetings. The Meeting of Experts will be held in Geneva from 12 to 16 August 2013 and the Meeting of States Parties from 9 to 13 December. The Meeting appointed Ms. Judit Körömi of Hungary as Chairman, and Ambassador Mazlan Muhammad of Malaysia and Ambassador Urs Schmid of Switzerland as Vice-Chairs.
The Meeting of States Parties is part of a four-year 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 166 States Parties, with a further 12 States having signed but not yet ratified.
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