45th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological Weapon Convention was marked by 26th March 2020. The anniversary comes as the world is grappling with the Coronavirus pandemic.
WHAT ARE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS?
- Biological weapon, also called germ weapon, any of a number of disease-producing agents—such as bacteria, viruses, rickettsiae, fungi, toxins, or other biological agents—that may be utilized as weapons against humans, animals, or plants.
- Biological weapons, like chemical weapons, radiological weapons, and nuclear weapons, are commonly referred to as weapons of mass destruction, although the term is not truly appropriate in the case of biological armaments.
- Lethal biological weapons may be capable of causing mass deaths, but they are incapable of mass destruction of infrastructure, buildings, or equipment. Nevertheless, because of the indiscriminate nature of these weapons—as well as the potential for starting widespread pandemics, the difficulty of controlling disease effects, and the simple fear that they inspire—most countries have agreed to ban the entire class.
- As of 2013 a total of 180 states and Taiwan had signed the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and 170 of those states and Taiwan had signed and ratified the treaty, which was opened for signature in 1972. Under the terms of the BWC, member states are prohibited from using biological weapons in warfare and from developing, testing, producing, stockpiling, or deploying them.
WHAT IS BIOLOGICAL WEAPON CONVENTION (BWC)?
The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction is usually referred to as the Biological Weapons Convention,(BWC), or Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention,(BTWC).
It was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of an entire category of weapons. The Convention was the result of prolonged efforts by the international community to establish a new instrument that would supplement the 1925 Geneva Protocol which prohibits use but not possession or development of chemical and biological weapons.
Thus, The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) is a legally binding treaty that outlaws biological arms which was opened for signature in 1972, and entered into force in 1975.
MEMBERS: It currently has 183 states-parties, including Palestine, and four signatories. Ten states have neither signed nor ratified the BWC. Tanzania is the most recent country to become a party.
WHAT ITEMS ARE BANNED UNDER THE CONVENTION?
The BWC bans the development, stockpiling, acquisition, retention, and production of:
- Biological agents and toxins “of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;”
- Weapons, equipment, and delivery vehicles “designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.”
- The transfer of or assistance with acquiring the agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and delivery vehicles described above.
EXCEPTION: The BWC does not ban the use of biological and toxin weapons but reaffirms the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibits such use. It also does not ban bio-defense programs.
REVIEW CONFERENCES OF BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION
States Parties have formally reviewed the operation of the BWC at quinquennial (every 5 years) review conferences held in 1980, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001/02, 2006, 2011, and 2016. There has been an increase in the percentage of delegates from States Parties who have been women since the first review conference, with just 7 percent in 1980 to 26 percent in 2011.
The Eighth Review Conference was held in Geneva in November 2016, had minimal achievements. While Western countries wanted to pursue ways to address rapidly advancing changes in technology, Iran and some Non-aligned states wanted negotiations to restart effort to pass the BWC Protocol.
NINTH REVIEW CONFERENCE: The Ninth BWC Review Conference will be held in Geneva in late 2021. On December 9, 2019, Sri Lanka was elected chairman of the 2020 Meeting of State Parties, an inter-sessional which will meet in December 2020 and discuss the agenda for the Ninth Review Conference.