From 29 to 30 May 2019, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) hosted a tabletop exercise for Francophone West African State Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) at its premises in Lomé, Togo. The two-day activity, which was funded by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, was organized in cooperation with the Implementation Support Unit (ISU) of the BWC and the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (Foundation for Strategic Research, FRS). It brought together representatives from nine State Parties to the BWC (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo), as well as experts from the United Nations and academia in order to explore operationalization of assistance between State Parties in the framework of Article VII of the Convention.
The opening ceremony of the event was attended by representatives of the three organizing entities, as well as honorary guests Ambassador Yann Yeo-Han Hwang, Permanent Representative of France to the Conference on Disarmament and Chair of the 2019 BWC Meeting of States Parties, and Mrs. Midamégbé AKAKPO, Chef de Cabinet of the Togolese Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene. Diplomats from the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Germany and representatives of the Delegation of the European Union in Lomé and the United Nations Country Team and Agencies also attended the ceremony.
The tabletop exercise gave the opportunity to the participants to assess factors that will influence the national decision-making process to trigger Article VII of the BWC and the implications that such a decision might have. Participants were, amongst others, encouraged to reflect upon decision making mechanisms and procedures as well as the conditions and circumstances that would lead to an invocation of Article VII and the measures that would be taken in such a case.
To this aim, participants were split up in three different groups representing several fictional countries and went through various stages of a scenario simulating a fictional biological attack. During the four phases, namely assessing the outbreak, developing policy actions, critical decision making and assessment, different issues had to be addressed relating to the evolving scenario and new information that was introduced at each stage. After every group session, plenary meetings were held in order for each group to present their reflections and results and to allow discussion between groups.
Furthermore, the exercise enabled participants to formulate recommendations that will feed into the discussions of the Meeting of Experts on Assistance, Response and Preparedness scheduled for 6 and 7 August 2019 in Geneva.