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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 45, April 2000

25th BWC Anniversary

Statement by UN Secretary-General

Secretary-General says Biological Weapons Convention has made important contribution to efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction,' United Nations Press Release SG/SM/7341, March 26, 2000

"… The Biological Weapons Convention was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. Today, 25 years after its entry into force, the…Convention remains more significant than ever and the spirit that inspired it a quarter of a century ago is very much alive. The Convention has made an important contribution towards the world community's collective efforts to eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

The strong commitment of States parties to the Convention led them to establish, in 1994, an ad hoc group…to consider appropriate measures, including possible verification measures, to be included in a legally-binding instrument, with a view to strengthening the Convention. I strongly support this initiative. Every effort must be made by the international community to ensure that the advancement made in biotechnology are applied towards the improvement of life in our planet and never for purposes that run counter to the provisions of the…Convention. I would, therefore, encourage the States parties to conclude negotiations on a protocol to the Convention at the earliest possible date. At the same time, I would also call upon Governments which have not yet acceded to the Convention to do so without delay so that its effectiveness may be further enhanced through universality."

Statement by the Depositary States

'25th anniversary of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention', Joint Statement by Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, March 27, 2000

"On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons Convention, the three Depositary States, the Russian Federation, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America, reaffirm their belief in the continuing relevance and importance of the Convention. As we start a new century the principles and objectives of the Convention are an important international norm serving to prevent any country from developing, producing, stockpiling or obtaining the means to employ bacteriological, biological or toxin weapons as a means of warfare. As such the Convention remains one of the key elements of international security and stability.

At its inception the Convention was a watershed international document, the first formal multilateral agreement to foreswear an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. Twenty five years later 143 States have acceded to it, a remarkable endorsement of the principles which it encompasses, and of the very important role it plays in the web of non-proliferation and arms control treaties. We, as the Depositaries, take this opportunity to call on those states which have not yet ratified or acceded to the BWC to do so without delay, so that the prohibitions on possession and development of biological weapons become even more universal.

The representatives of many States Parties are now engaged in work to strengthen the Convention. The aim is a Protocol that will create a regime to enhance confidence in compliance with the fundamental objectives of the Convention. This effort will bring the Convention into better alignment with the principles of other arms control agreements. As the terms of the mandate given to the Ad Hoc Group make clear the objective is 'to consider appropriate measures, including possible verification measures…to be included, as appropriate, in a legally binding instrument'. Successful achievement of an effective Protocol within the agreed timeframe must be the target of all States Parties. We pledge our own efforts to achieving this goal, and call upon all other States Parties to do likewise, and to accede to the Protocol once it is agreed."

UN Symposium

'Symposium marks twenty-fifth anniversary of Biological Weapons Convention,' United Nations Press Release DC/2690, March 31, 2000

"A symposium on 'Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention: International Cooperation and Exchanges in the Field of Biotechnology,' organized jointly by the Department for Disarmament Affairs and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), was held on March 24…

Pointing to the announcement made that same morning that the entire genome of the fruit fly had been sequenced, Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate and former Chairman of Rockefeller University, stressed that it was a 'short step to do the same for the human' that could lead to a 'deep philosophical cum technological understanding of the roots of life, from microbes, to food plants, even to human nature… Plainly, we are facing the gravest of choices, whether these immense powers will result in misery, even extermination, or common human benefit in a new economy coupled with a new democratic polity.'

Tibor Tóth of Hungary, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Group…currently negotiating a verification protocol to the Convention in Geneva, noted that no inspection had…been carried out in the 25-year existence of the Convention. He urged the negotiators to seize the unique opportunity of the turn of the century 'to complete' the Convention.

Adolfo R. Taylhardat, President of the Board of Governors of the ICGEB, noted that the BWC preserved a delicate balance between the need to outlaw biological weapons and the need not to interfere with the progress in scientific research in biotechnology.

Jayantha Dhanapala, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, noted that the spirit and principles of the Convention remained relevant… He stressed the need to stave off attempts for the offensive use of biological agents and biotechnology, but at the same time recalled the responsibility of the international community to ensure equal access by everyone to the benefits brought forth by new technologies. International cooperation and exchanges in biotechnology required the involvement of civil society, he said. …"

Note: the anniversary was also marked at a seminar held at the United Nations in Geneva on March 27, co-sponsored by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), Bradford University's Department of Peace Studies, the International Security Information Service (ISIS), the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), and the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC). The seminar was chaired by Ambassador Tóth. Speakers included UNIDIR Director Dr. Patricia Lewis, Minister Antonio Patriota from the Brazilian Mission to the UN, Professor Nicholas Sims of the London School of Economics and Dr. Mark Wheelis of FAS. More information can be obtained from Hazel Tamano at UNIDIR htamano@unog.ch, telephone +41 22 917 3368).

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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