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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 11, December 1996

Fourth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference

'Fourth Review Conference on Biological Weapons Convention Concludes,' United Nations Information Service Press Release, DC/2572, 6 December 1996

See News Review for background and reaction.


"The Fourth Review Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction - the Biological Weapons Convention - concluded its two-week session this morning, approving a Final Declaration that expressed support for intensified work by an ad hoc group attempting to design a verification protocol for the international treaty.

The Conference expressed hope that the group - which began work in 1994 - would reach agreement on a draft protocol to be considered by a special conference of States parties to the Convention 'as soon as possible', and before the Fifth Review Conference, which was scheduled for not later than 2001.

The Final Declaration also stated that countries having ratified the treaty consider that it applies to all developments in the field of biology and biotechnology. Concern had been expressed that it be understood that the treaty apply to biological advances that have occurred since the document entered into force in 1975.

It reaffirmed that States parties consider the Biological Weapons Convention to prohibit 'use' of such weapons, as well as their development, production, stockpiling, and acquisition. The treaty language does not explicitly ban use, and at the beginning of the Review Conference the Government of Iran tabled a proposed amendment to the treaty that would incorporate such an express prohibition. The Final Declaration takes note of the proposal and recommends it for consideration by States parties.

The declaration also reinforces a theme mentioned repeatedly during plenary debate - that implementation of the Convention should facilitate economic and technological development and international cooperation in the field of peaceful biological activities. And it reaffirmed States parties' determination 'to act with a view to achieving effective progress toward general and complete disarmament, including the prohibition and elimination of all types of weapons of mass destruction'.

The two-week gathering had as its basic task the consideration of proposals to strengthen the treaty, the first multilateral disarmament instrument to ban a whole category of weapons. There are close to 140 States parties to the Convention. During plenary meetings, broad statements on policy were voiced by national delegations; an article-by-article review of the treaty followed during several sessions of a Committee of the Whole. The previous Review Conference was held in 1991.

The Fourth Review Conference began with a statement from United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, which cited 'a clear need for a coherent regime to enhance compliance with the Convention' but also noted that efforts to prevent the development of such weapons should not hinder the spread of useful, peaceful technology to developing countries.

Final Declaration of Review Conference

The Final Declaration, included in the report of the Conference (BWC/CONF.IV/L.1) includes a series of opening remarks and proceeds to comments on the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention on an article-by-article basis. The opening clauses include statements of: conviction that the Convention is essential to international peace and security; reaffirmation of the determination to act with a view to achieving effective progress toward general and complete disarmament; reaffirmation that under any circumstances the use, development, production, and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons is effectively prohibited under Article 1 of the Convention; determination to enhance implementation and effectiveness of the Convention and to further strengthen its authority, including through confidence-building measures and agreed procedures for consultations, and through fulfilment of the mandate entrusted to the ad hoc group established by a Special Conference in 1994; and conviction that the full implementation of the Convention should facilitate economic and technological development and cooperation in the field of peaceful biological activities.

The Declaration announces the decision that a Fifth Review Conference shall be held in Geneva at the request of the majority of States parties or in any case not later than 2001. And it welcomes the decision of the ad hoc group attempting to develop verification measures to intensify its work with a view to completing it as soon as possible and before the commencement of the Fifth Review Conference, and to submit its report to a Special Conference of States parties. It also encourages the ad hoc group to review its working methods and to move to a 'negotiating format'. At its last meeting, the group envisaged holding three sessions in 1997.

Officers of Review Conference

Sir Michael Weston (United Kingdom) was elected Chairman. Confirmed as Secretary-General of the Conference was Sola Ogunbanwo (Nigeria). Chairman of the Committee of the Whole was Jorge Berguno (Chile), and Chairman of the Drafting Committee was Tibor Toth (Hungary).

States serving as Vice-Presidents of the Conference were, from the Group of Non-aligned and Other States - Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, and South Africa; from the Western Group - Canada, Germany, Ireland (on behalf of the European Union), Japan, Netherlands, and the United States; and from the Group of Eastern European States - the Russian Federation, Poland, Romania, and Slovenia. ..."

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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