The Conference -- formally titled the Fourth Review Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction -- was opened this morning.
Among the formal remarks at the afternoon meeting was a statement by Switzerland that the continuing production and stockpiling of biological weapons by some States parties was not only a violation of the Convention, but of the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. The representative of the Czech Republic said the Convention was almost unverifiable in its present form because all its obligations depended on the intentions of a State Party. He called for the early implementation of the verification regime that the Ad Hoc Group of States Parties to the Convention had been working on.
Brazil's representative, meanwhile, urged that any effort to try to contain the spread of such weapons must be combined with measures for their complete elimination, because as long as some countries continued to deem biological weapons useful and to retain their arsenals, others would feel tempted to do the same.
The Conference's basic task is to consider proposals to strengthen the 1972 treaty, the first multilateral disarmament instrument to ban a whole category of weapons. Nearly 140 countries have ratified the Convention.
Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Romania, New Zealand and Nigeria.
It also was announced that Poland, Romania and Slovenia would join other countries appointed as vice-presidents of the Conference. A vacancy for vice- chairman of the Committee of the Whole was filled by Belarus; the remaining vice-chairman's post for the Credentials Committee was filled by the Slovak Republic; and the Czech Republic was appointed as a member of the Credentials
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ERWIN H. HOFER (Switzerland) said it was disturbing to find that some States parties had not given up the production and stockpiling of biological weapons; that was not only a violation of the Convention, but of the Geneva Protocol of 1925. He called on all countries to cease any such activities and to renounce such weapons. The prospect of use of such weapons by non-State parties also was frightening, and the Conference should respond to that possibility with practical measures. The Conference must bring about better transparency regarding such weapons and must establish a better system of verification; an intensification of negotiations of the Ad Hoc Group was necessary.
MIROSLAV SOMOL (Czech Republic) said the Convention was almost unverifiable in its present form because all its obligations depended on the intentions of a State party. Thus, the early implementation of the verification regime the Ad Hoc Group had been working on was badly needed. The elaboration and adoption of a verification protocol to the Convention would be the best way of preventing proliferation of such weapons. Much work remained to be done and it was the Conference that should consider and decide how the Group's work should be approached in the near future. The time allocated to the Group in 1997 and 1998 should be substantially increased in order to complete the negotiations as soon as possible, and at its conclusion a special conference should be convened so that the draft text could be adopted quickly.
PAVEL GRECU (Romania) said the goal of the Convention could only be achieved through strict compliance by all States parties and through strengthening of the authority of the Convention, first and foremost, in the field of non-proliferation and verification of compliance. Believing that export controls were an essential lever of enforcing non-proliferation, Romania had established the necessary mechanisms, procedures and lists of items.
Noting that Romania was working towards achievement within the Ad Hoc Group of a draft protocol on verification, he regretted that the Group was unable to complete its work, and deemed it important that negotiations should be intensified in order to strengthen the Convention in a definite period of time in the near future. Romania believed that the final declaration of the Conference should include an appeal to all States to accede to the Convention.
GILBERTO VERGNE SABOIA (Brazil) said non-ratification by declared possessors of chemical weapons was a matter of grave concern, with
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implications that could go beyond the difficulties of implementing the Convention. Any effort to try to contain the spread of such weapons must be combined with measures for their complete elimination, because as long as some continued to deem such weapons useful and to retain their arsenals, others would feel tempted to do the same.
Brazil believed the final declaration should include language covering developments in the area of genetic modification and reference to disturbing accounts of past non-compliance on the part of States parties to the Convention. Brazil had recently adopted new legislation establishing special procedures applying to exports of sensitive material, the full text of which had been submitted to the Secretariat. A workable regime to strengthen the Convention should include not only the possibility of conducting investigations of alleged use and other on-site intrusive activities, but also cooperative measures whereby a future implementing agency would have a central role in collecting information on biological activities in all States parties and by providing or acting as a catalyst for technical assistance.
BRUCE MIDDLETON (New Zealand) said biological weapons could pose as great a threat as nuclear weapons, but were much easier to manufacture and conceal, and for that reason States parties had a major responsibility to strengthen the Convention and establish a mechanism to ensure that all parties complied with its prohibitions. The discoveries of missions of the United Nations Special Commission to Iraq underlined the importance of that. Confidence-building measures, given that the degree of participation was not very high, were clearly not enough. The Ad Hoc Group should complete its work as soon as possible, he said, supporting the Group's decision to intensify its efforts and hoping that most of the work would be completed in 1997.
New Zealand urged that all States accede to the Convention, and also urged States parties to commit themselves to the work of the Ad Hoc Group and to push next year for real progress towards an effective verification regime.
EJOH ABUAH (Nigeria) said his country had never developed, acquired, retained, nor stockpiled biological weapons, and, hence, was not in a position to transfer or destroy that type of weapon. He expected all States parties to demonstrate their compliance with the Convention in ways that were transparent and could enhance the confidence of all. He appealed to all States to ratify and adhere to the Convention, but admitted the treaty had a gaping hole which must be closed. The problem was the absence of a verification system to ensure compliance.
States parties must continue with the confidence-building measures elaborated at the Second Review Conference, he said, adding that the measures should continue to be politically binding and improved upon. Meanwhile, international cooperation on biological weapons must not impede the transfer of peaceful technology and knowledge to enable developing countries to take advantage of and contribute to research in the biomedical sciences.
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