UNODA and Sri Lanka launch National Preparedness Programme in the framework of EU Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the Biological Weapons Convention

July 1st, 2021

On 22 and 23 June 2021, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) convened a two-day virtual introductory workshop on the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and its Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) for Sri Lankan authorities.

The training marked the launch of Sri Lanka’s National Preparedness Programme (NPP). Sri Lanka is one of four BWC States Parties that were selected for such a programme, which is funded by European Union Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the BWC. Amongst others, NPP’s are designed to strengthen a country’s capacity for detecting, reporting and responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases or biological weapons attacks, including in the areas of preparedness, response, and crisis management and mitigation. 

Co-organised with the BWC Implementation Support Unit (ISU), the workshop drew more than 100 participants from almost 40 Sri Lankan government entities, who benefitted from in-depth expert presentations. Representatives from the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva and the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and Pacific (UNRCPD) also attended.

Dr. Sunil De Alwis and Dr. Asela Gunawardana, Additional Secretary and Director General of Health Services respectively from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, Mr. Georgios Kritikos, Deputy Head of the Non-proliferation, Disarmament and Arms Control Division in the European External Action Service (EEAS), and Mr. Daniel Feakes, Chief of the ISU, opened the meeting. In his welcoming remarks, Mr. Kritikos underscored the timeliness of the EU-funded NPP, noting that “the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how disruptive biological incidents can be, underlying the importance of the BWC in countering biological threats”.

Mr. Georgios Kritikos, Deputy Head of the Non-proliferation, Disarmament and Arms Control Division in the European External Action Service

Next, Ms. Melanie Gerber, Political Affairs Officer at UNODA, gave an introduction about the BWC, presenting its history, provisions, significance, and the available resources to facilitate States parties’ implementation of the Convention.

Participants then heard from Dr. Alex Lampalzer, Deputy Chief of the ISU, who focussed on the ways in which the Convention addresses assistance, response and preparedness. He explained that, when the UN Security Council decides that a State Party has been exposed to danger as a result of violation of the Convention, States Parties undertake to provide assistance in accordance with Article VII. However, he noted that implementing this article has faced practical challenges which had prompted efforts to strengthen the provision. In closing, Dr. Lampalzer presented on the lessons learned from BWC assistance and preparedness projects which may benefit the Sri Lankan authorities in their implementation efforts.

Dr. H.D.B. Herath, National Focal Point for the BWC in Sri Lanka, and Dr. Sunil De Alwis, Additional Secretary for Medical Services in the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health

During the second session, the focus shifted to Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Dr. Alex Lampalzer introduced the aims and objectives of CBMs and the preparation and submission process. He furthermore presented the electronic CBM platform, which serves as the online repository of all CBM reports since 1987 and which also allows for online submissions. Subsequently, Dr. Novil Wijesekara (Sri Lankan Ministry of Health) gave an overview of Sri Lanka’s national implementation of the BWC and explained how it fits within the country’s public health security framework. 

Presentation by Dr. Novil Wijesekara, Acting Consultant in the Disaster Preparedness and Response Division, Sri Lanka Ministry of Health

The participants then heard from Ms. Kathryn Tham Bee Lin, Science and Technology Research Institute for Defence (STRIDE) of the Ministry of Defense of Malaysia, who presented on Malaysia’s experience with implementing the BWC and preparing CBMs in particular. A beneficiary under the previous EU Council Decision in support of the BWC, Malaysia had organised seminars on preparing CBMs and increased awareness across government entities. As a result, the country enhanced internal coordination and established a structured process for regularly submitting comprehensive CBM reports. 

Ms. Kathryn Tham Bee Lin, Senior Research Officer, Science & Technology Research Institute for Defence (STRIDE), Malaysian Ministry of Defence

In the coming months, further capacity building trainings in the areas of prevention, preparedness and response will be carried out with Sri Lanka in the framework of the NPP. 

For more information contact the BWC ISU team at bwc@un.org.

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