States Parties Agree on Common Understandings and to Promote Effective Action on Measures to Improve Biosafety and Biosecurity, Oversight, Education, Awareness Raising, and Codes of Conduct
5 December 2008
The Meeting of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention took place from 1 to 5 December 2008 in Geneva. The meeting consolidated and strengthened the work of the Meeting of Experts, held from 18 to 22 August, on two specific topics:
- National, regional and international measures to improve biosafety and biosecurity, including laboratory safety and security of pathogens and toxins; and
- Oversight, education, awareness raising and adoption and/or development of codes of conduct with the aim of preventing misuse n the context of advances in bioscience and biotechnology research with the potential of use for purposes prohibited by the Convention.
The Meeting of States Parties was chaired by Ambassador Georgi Avramchev of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, who coined the Meeting’s motto of “refinement, structure and focus”. Expressing his satisfaction with the conclusion of the Meeting of States Parties, the Chairman noted “We can be satisfied that we are taking the right steps to strengthen the Convention. I have been impressed by the strength of common purpose exhibited throughout our work this year and the degree of involvement of the scientific community. We have worked together in a positive and collegial atmosphere to focus on practical measures.” In its closing remarks, the delegation of the United States noted that the meeting had been a success as “it stayed above politics and worked for a higher cause.” Iran observed that “a clear theme which ran through both topics during our deliberations was that of balance and of the need for proportional measures, for carefully assessing risks, for balancing security concerns against the need of nurturing research and ensuring the peaceful development of biological science and technology.”
In addition to representatives from 97 States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), participants included representatives from international organizations such as Interpol, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health, as well as and representatives from non-governmental organizations, such as the European Biosafety Association, the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility and the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law.
The Meeting agreed a common understanding on what the terms biosafety and biosecurity mean in the context of the Convention, as well as listing a range of measures that States Parties could pursue in the interests of building biosafety and biosecurity capacity. On the second topic, States Parties agreed on the importance of developing measures on oversight, education, awareness-raising and codes of conduct that involve all relevant stakeholders. They also recognized the importance of ensuring that those working in the biological sciences are aware of their obligations under the Convention, have a clear understanding of the content, purpose and foreseeable social, environmental, health and security consequences of their activities, and are encouraged to take an active role in addressing the threats posed by the potential misuse of biological agents and toxins as weapons, including for bioterrorism
On the opening day of the meeting, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mr. Sergei Ordzhonikidze, delivered a message to the meeting from the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. In his message, the Secretary-General welcomed the progress made in the intersessional process to date, and added, “I urge you to begin thinking about additional steps that could be taken at the next review conference. You might consider how to increase membership, and how to further develop the Implementation Support Unit. You might also explore the potential for further multilateral cooperation in the fields of verification, compliance and enforcement of the Convention. The United Nations will continue to support your important work.”
The BWC Implementation Support Unit, now in its second year, delivered its report to the Meeting. The Unit was established by the Sixth Review Conference to assist States Parties in their efforts to strengthen the implementation of the Convention and reduce the threat posed by biological weapons. The report was widely welcomed and States Parties noted the progress that had been made. The delegation of Norway stated “the establishment of the ISU was one of the main deliverables of the BTWC Sixth Review Conference. It has certainly lived up to our expectations. It is impressive that this small unit has been able to do all the reported activities.”
States Parties also welcomed the accession of four new States Parties in 2008, Zambia, Madagascar, the United Arab Emirates and the Cook Islands, whose accessions bring the membership of the BWC to 163 States parties.
Finally, the Meeting appointed the Chair of the 2009 meetings of the BWC, Ambassador Marius Grinius of Canada, and decided to hold the Meeting of Experts from 24 to 28 August 2009 and the Meeting of States Parties from 7 to 11 December 2009.
The Meeting of States Parties is part of a four-year intersessional programme mandated by the Sixth Review Conference 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 programme builds on the success of a similar work programme held from 2003 to 2005.
The Biological Weapons Convention, 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, opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. The BWC was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons. It currently has 163 States Parties, with a further 13 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
URL : www.unog.ch/bwc
For use of the information media; not an official record