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‘We must remain vigilant,’ Ban urges as Biological Weapons Convention turns 40

Weapons collected in Libya to prevent arms proliferation. Photo: Giovanni Diffidenti
Weapons collected in Libya to prevent arms proliferation. Photo: Giovanni Diffidenti
26 March 2015 – The world must continue to remain vigilant against the threat of biological weapons despite the progress made by the international community in preventing their spread, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

In a message marking the 40th anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Biological Weapons Convention, the Secretary-General noted that “the norm against the use and possession of biological weapons remains strong, and no country identifies itself as possessing biological weapons.”

However, he added, Member States need to remain aware of the looming threat that such devastating armaments pose to humanity and continue to enforce efforts to eliminate their availability.

“The Ebola outbreak in West Africa demonstrates the damage which diseases can inflict, damage which could increase massively were such diseases deliberately misused as weapons,” said Mr. Ban.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “the outbreak also demonstrates the commitment of the international community to respond to such threats, whether natural or deliberate. It also shows the vital role of science in creating better defences.”

The Biological Weapons Convention opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. It prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, retention, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons and is a key element, along with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, in the international community's efforts to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

It was also the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons. It currently has 173 States parties.

Mr. Ban called on the 23 governments that have not yet joined the Convention to do so “without delay,” adding that in its anniversary year, and with the Eighth Review Conference around the corner in 2016, “all countries should reaffirm their unequivocal rejection of the use of disease as a weapon.”

“We must remain vigilant. The Eighth Review Conference in 2016 is an opportunity to consolidate progress and consider how to adapt this landmark Convention to the challenges posed by advances in science and technology as well as potential risks posed by terrorists and other non-State actors,” the Secretary-General affirmed. “I encourage States Parties to think creatively about how to build confidence in compliance with the Convention.”

UN agency head urges cooperation on safeguards, stresses role of nuclear energy in development

Board of Governors Meeting of the  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, Austria, 2 March 2015. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calma
Board of Governors Meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, Austria, 2 March 2015. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calma
2 March 2015 – In his introductory statement to the Agency’s Board of Governors, the head of the United Nations atomic energy watchdog said he remains “seriously concerned” about nuclear programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and that he is not yet in a position to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is used for peaceful purposes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano said the Vienna-based body remains ready to play an essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme, despite DPRK’s unwillingness to allow verification teams into the country.

“It is nearly six years since Agency inspectors were asked to leave the DPRK,” he said. “I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency in implementing its NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) Safeguards Agreement, and to resolve all outstanding issues.”

Verification of the non-diversion of nuclear material by Iran continued under the Safeguards Agreement was continuing, Mr. Amano said, monitoring and verification in relation to the nuclear-related measures set out in the Joint Plan of Action agreed between Iran and the so called “E3+3” countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom and United States).

“The Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” he said adding that that meant it was therefore impossible to conclude that all nuclear material was being used peacefully.

The Agency was unable to clarify two outstanding practical measures that were agreed last year under the Framework for Cooperation, while Iran was still to propose new practical measures. With increased cooperation by Iran, the Agency could help to accelerate resolution of all outstanding issues under the Framework, and he called for timely provision of access to all information, documentation, sites, material and personnel requested by the Agency.

“This process cannot continue indefinitely,” he said. “Once the agency has established an understanding of the whole picture concerning issues with possible military dimensions, I will provide a report with our assessment to the Board.”

Pointing to positive recent meetings with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and his Deputy Araghchi, Mr. Amano reported that he had no new developments to report on implementation of safeguards in Syria and he renewed his call on Syria to cooperate fully in connection with unresolved issues related to the Dair Alzour site and other locations.

While stressing the importance of nuclear safeguards, Mr. Amano also underlined the importance of the Agency’s work to make nuclear technologies available for development.

“I feel that our mandate could be understood today not just as ‘Atoms for Peace,’ but as Atoms for Peace and Development,” he said, emphasising the importance of modern science and technology, including nuclear technology, for development, and calling for its appropriate recognition in the post-2015 development agenda.

He also drew attention to progress in implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, including adoption of the Vienna Declaration on Nuclear Safety including principles for the implementation of the Convention to prevent accidents with radiological consequences and to mitigate such consequences should they occur.

Noting that the Agency was moving into a “critical period” as far as extra-budgetary contributions for the ReNuAL project to modernise the nuclear applications laboratories at Seibersdorf are concerned, he said it was “worrying” that no concrete commitments of contributions towards the cost of construction of the buildings have been received so far, although some Member States have indicated strong interest.