UNODA convenes a regional workshop on achieving universalization of the Biological Weapons Convention in Africa

March 19th, 2021

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It has reached almost universal adherence with only 14 States, mostly in Africa and the Pacific, remaining outside of the Convention.  

To encourage these States to join the Convention, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) convened a virtual regional workshop for African States, in cooperation with the BWC Implementation Support Unit (ISU) and the Permanent Mission of Kenya in Geneva on 4 March 2021.   

Combining expert presentations and testimonies from key officials, the workshop was tailored to build understanding about the Convention’s provisions and spotlighted how the treaty would have a concrete impact in the African context. 

Ambassador Marjolijn van Deelen, EU Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, welcomed the participating senior representatives from Chad, Egypt, Namibia and South Sudan. In her opening remarks, she laid out the opportunities of joining the BWC, which “(..) provides the possibility for countries to benefit from international exchanges, cooperation and assistance in their efforts to strengthen national public health, veterinary, agricultural and emergency-response capacities as well as legislation in the field of biosafety and biosecurity”. By implementing the Convention’s provisions, countries would also make a positive contribution towards achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals, such as Goal 3 on “Good Health and Well-being” and Goals 14 and 15 on “Life below Water” and “Life on Land”, as well as Goal 16 which aims to promote peace and end violence, added Ambassador Cleopa K. Mailu of Kenya, Chairperson of the BWC Meeting of States Parties. 

The workshop was held under European Union Council Decision 2019/97, building on previous universalization efforts under earlier EU Council Decisions. 

Ambassador Marjolijn van Deelen, EU Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

Senior officials of the three BWC depositary governments, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States, addressed the participants through video messages, underlining their countries’ strong commitment to the BWC and encouraging those that have not yet joined to do so without delay. 

Ms. Melanie Gerber, Political Affairs Officer with UNODA, explained what States could expect when joining the Convention, including participating in the sole multilateral forum for dialogue concerning all issue pertaining the biological weapons and benefitting from various cooperation and assistance opportunities.  

Senior officials of the three BWC depositary governments, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States, addressing the participants through video messages. 

H.E. Mr. Gennady Gatilov, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva 

Senior officials of the three BWC depositary governments, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States, addressing the participants through video messages. 

H.E. Mr. Aidan Liddle, Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

Senior officials of the three BWC depositary governments, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States, addressing the participants through video messages. 

H.E. Mr. Robert Wood U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, Special Representative for Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Issues, Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

Participants then heard expert presentations that focused on ways to advance biosecurity and biosafety measures in the region, which are severely underprioritized in Africa and around the world. If all States in Africa would be part of the BWC, said Professor Wilmot James, Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University and Senior Consultant in Biosecurity at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), this would significantly improve preparedness for the outbreaks of diseases, whether they originate naturally or from deliberate or malicious intent.  

Mr. Sunday Akile, Senior Programme Officer for Legal/Policy on Biosafety Issues from the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (NEPAD-ABNE), Mr. Talkmore Maruta, Senior Biosafety and Biosecurity Officer from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), and Professor Akin Abayomi, Honourable Commissioner for Health at the Lagos States Ministry of Health, from the Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium (GET Africa), outlined  areas where their respective organisations could work together with African States not party to the Convention. Mr. Thomas Brown, Associate Legal Officer from the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC), spotlighted how his organisation’s National Implementation Measures (NIM) Programme could provide assistance to States in the legislative process of joining and implementing the BWC. 

Experts presented on ways to advance biosecurity and biosafety measures in the region

In the last segment of the workshop, the representatives of the participating States shared their countries’ considerations about joining the Convention, while some provided updates on the status of their States’ accession process. 

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