6 December 1996


6 December 1996

Press Release



GENEVA, 6 December (UN Information Service) -- The Fourth Review Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction -- the Biological Weapons Convention -- concluded its two-week session this morning, approving a Final Declaration that expressed support for intensified work by an ad hoc group attempting to design a verification protocol for the international treaty.

The Conference expressed hope that the group -- which began work in 1994 -- would reach agreement on a draft protocol to be considered by a special conference of States parties to the Convention "as soon as possible", and before the Fifth Review Conference, which was scheduled for not later than 2001.

The Final Declaration also stated that countries having ratified the treaty consider that it applies to all developments in the field of biology and biotechnology. Concern had been expressed that it be understood that the treaty apply to biological advances that have occurred since the document entered into force in 1975.

It reaffirmed that States parties consider the Biological Weapons Convention to prohibit "use" of such weapons, as well as their development, production, stockpiling, and acquisition. The treaty language does not explicitly ban use, and at the beginning of the Review Conference the Government of Iran tabled a proposed amendment to the treaty that would incorporate such an express prohibition. The Final Declaration takes note of the proposal and recommends it for consideration by States parties.

The declaration also reinforces a theme mentioned repeatedly during plenary debate -- that implementation of the Convention should facilitate economic and technological development and international cooperation in the field of peaceful biological activities. And it reaffirmed States parties' determination "to act with a view to achieving effective progress toward general and complete disarmament, including the prohibition and elimination of all types of weapons of mass destruction".

The two-week gathering had as its basic task the consideration of proposals to strengthen the treaty, the first multilateral disarmament instrument to ban a whole category of weapons. There are close to 140 States parties to the Convention. During plenary meetings, broad statements on policy were voiced by national delegations; an article-by-article review of the treaty followed during several sessions of a Committee of the Whole. The previous Review Conference was held in 1991.

The Fourth Review Conference began with a statement from United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, which cited "a clear need for a coherent regime to enhance compliance with the Convention" but also noted that efforts to prevent the development of such weapons should not hinder the spread of useful, peaceful technology to developing countries.

Final Declaration of Review Conference

The Final Declaration, included in the report of the Conference (BWC/CONF.IV/L.1) includes a series of opening remarks and proceeds to comments on the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention on an article-by-article basis. The opening clauses include statements of: conviction that the Convention is essential to international peace and security; reaffirmation of the determination to act with a view to achieving effective progress toward general and complete disarmament; reaffirmation that under any circumstances the use, development, production, and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons is effectively prohibited under Article 1 of the Convention; determination to enhance implementation and effectiveness of the Convention and to further strengthen its authority, including through confidence-building measures and agreed procedures for consultations, and through fulfilment of the mandate entrusted to the ad hoc group established by a Special Conference in 1994; and conviction that the full implementation of the Convention should facilitate economic and technological development and cooperation in the field of peaceful biological activities.

The Declaration announces the decision that a Fifth Review Conference shall be held in Geneva at the request of the majority of States parties or in any case not later than 2001. And it welcomes the decision of the ad hoc group attempting to develop verification measures to intensify its work with a view to completing it as soon as possible and before the commencement of the Fifth Review Conference, and to submit its report to a Special Conference of States parties. It also encourages the ad hoc group to review its working methods and to move to a "negotiating format". At its last meeting, the group envisaged holding three sessions in 1997.

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Officers of Review Conference

Sir Michael Weston (United Kingdom) was elected Chairman. Confirmed as Secretary-General of the Conference was Sola Ogunbanwo (Nigeria). Chairman of the Committee of the Whole was Jorge Berguno (Chile), and Chairman of the Drafting Committee was Tibor Toth (Hungary).

States serving as Vice-Presidents of the Conference were, from the Group of Non-aligned and Other States -- Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, and South Africa; from the Western Group -- Canada, Germany, Ireland (on behalf of the European Union), Japan, Netherlands, and the United States; and from the Group of Eastern European States -- the Russian Federation, Poland, Romania, and Slovenia.

Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention

Work on a strengthened compliance and verification regime for the Convention has been the focus of multilateral negotiations since the Third Review Conference in 1991. At that time, the States parties decided to establish an ad hoc group of governmental experts to identify and examine potential verification measures from a scientific and technical standpoint (the "VEREX" group). The report of the group was considered at a special conference of States parties to the Convention in September 1994 in Geneva. That meeting, recognizing the complex nature of the issues involved in strengthening the Convention, underlined the need for a gradual approach towards the establishment of a coherent regime to enhance the effectiveness and improve compliance with the regime.

The Special Conference also agreed to establish a further ad hoc group with a mandate to draft proposals to be included in a legally binding instrument to be submitted for the consideration of the States parties. The Group was asked to consider, among other things:

-- definitions of terms and objective criteria, such as lists of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins, their threshold quantities, as well as equipment and types of activities, where relevant for specific measures designed to strengthen the Convention;

-- the incorporation of existing and further enhanced confidence- building and transparency measures, as appropriate, into the regime; and

-- a system of measures to promote compliance with the Convention, including, as appropriate, measures identified, examined and evaluated in the VEREX report. Such measures should: apply to all relevant facilities and activities, be reliable, cost-effective, non-discriminatory and as non-intrusive as possible, consistent with the effective implementation of the system; and should not lead to abuse.

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The ad hoc group, chaired by Tibor Toth (Hungary), held three sessions in 1995 and two this year, during which it considered issues related to "Measures to Promote Compliance", "Definitions of Terms and Objective Criteria", "Measures Related to Article X (under which States parties undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technical information for the use of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes)" and "Confidence Building Measures".

Although unable to complete its mandate of elaborating consensus draft proposals on possible verification measures, the ad hoc group concluded that it had made significant progress in elaborating potential basic elements of a legally binding instrument to strengthen the Convention.

Biological Weapons Convention

The Biological Weapons Convention, commended by the General Assembly on 16 December 1971 in resolution 2826 (XXVI) and opened for signature on 10 April 1972, was drawn up on the basis of work carried out by the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament, a multilateral negotiating body that later became the Conference on Disarmament. The Convention has been signed and ratified by 138 States, with a further 18 having signed but not yet ratified. The depositary Governments are the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Under Article I of the 15-article Convention, States parties undertake "never in any circumstances to develop, produce or otherwise acquire or retain: microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protection or other peaceful purposes; weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict."

Under Article II, States parties undertake "to destroy or to divert for peaceful purposes", not later than nine months after the Convention's entry into force, all biological agents, toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery which are in their possession or under their jurisdiction or control.

Article III provides that States parties undertake "not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever, directly or indirectly, and not in any way to assist, encourage or induce any State, group of States or international organizations to manufacture or otherwise acquire" any of the materials or means of delivery dealt with by the Convention.

States parties, under Article IV, agree to undertake any necessary measures to prohibit or prevent within their territory or under their jurisdiction or control, the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition

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or retention of the materials and means of delivery dealt with by the Convention.

Article V provides that States parties "undertake to consult one another and to cooperate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the objective of, or in the application of the provisions of, the Convention" and that consultation and cooperation may also be undertaken within the framework of the United Nations.

"Any State Party to this Convention which finds that any other State Party is acting in breach of obligations deriving from the provisions of the Convention may lodge a complaint with the Security Council of the United Nations", states Article VI. Further, each State party "undertakes to cooperate in carrying out any investigation which the Security Council may initiate, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations".

Under Article VII, States parties undertake to provide or support assistance to any State party which so requests, if the Security Council decides that such a party has been exposed to danger as a result of violation of the Convention.

Article VIII states that nothing in the Convention shall be interpreted as in any way limiting or detracting from the obligations assumed by any State under the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.

By Article IX, each State party "affirms the recognized objective of effective prohibition of chemical weapons" and, to that end, undertakes to continue negotiations in good faith to reach early agreement on effective measures to prohibit their development, production and stockpiling and to work for their destruction.

States parties, under Article X, "undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technical information for the use of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes". The Convention, the Article continues, "shall be implemented in a manner designed to avoid hampering the economic or technological development of States parties...or international cooperation in the field of peaceful bacteriological (biological) activities, including the international exchange of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins and equipment for the processing, use or production of bacteriological (biological) agents and toxins for peaceful purposes in accordance with the provisions of the Convention."

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Other Articles of the Convention deal with amendments (Article XI); duration of the Convention and right to withdraw from it (Article XIII); signature, ratification or accession, and entry into force (Article XIV); and depositary governments (Article XV).

States Parties to Convention

The Biological Weapons Convention has been ratified or acceded to by the following 138 States: Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zaire, and Zimbabwe.

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For information media. Not an official record.