The 9th Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was held in Geneva from 28 November to 16 December 2022 and was presided by the Permanent Representative of Italy to the Conference on Disarmament, Amb. Leonardo Bencini.
The positive outcome of the Review Conference was described by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “a glimmer of hope in an overall bleak international security environment”. The agreement reached made it possible to unblock the political deadlock in which the Convention had been living for over twenty years.
Specifically, the 9th Review Conference established a Working Group for the 2023-2026 Review Cycle, with the mandate of identifying and developing specific measures to strengthen the Convention.
The Working Group addresses seven main themes:
- International cooperation and assistance;
- Scientific and technological developments relevant to the Convention;
- Confidence-building and transparency;
- Compliance and verification;
- National implementation;
- Assistance, response and preparedness;
- Organizational, institutional and financial arrangements.
Among these topics, it is of particular importance the commitment to develop specific mechanisms in the field of international cooperation and scientific and technological developments, two key areas in the BWC debate. In addition, it is relevant the effort to identify possible compliance and verification measures, a topic absent from the discussions for over twenty years.
The Group, which will meet for fifteen days each year, will work to identify, examine and develop specific measures and recommendations to be presented at the next Review Conference or – should convergences occur within a shorter period – by convening a Special Conference.
The constructive approach of the Italian Presidency was essential in reaching this major agreement, which provides solid foundations for the intersessional period.
The presidency of Ambassador Bencini also stood out for its attention to gender issues, guaranteeing the Bureau with the greatest gender parity in the history of the Convention.
The importance of the Convention
The Biological Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production and possession of the bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons (viruses, bacteria, microorganisms, spores, toxins) and requires the destruction of existing stocks. Entered into force in March 1975, it is the first multilateral treaty banning the production and use of an entire category of weapons. To date, the Convention has been ratified by 185 States and signed by an additional 4.
Italy considers the BWC a fundamental instrument in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation; its universalization and strengthening, especially in terms of its application by States Parties, therefore constitute a priority, also pursued during the 9th Review Conference. The Covid-19 pandemic also raised awareness on the importance of the BWC, making evident the serious consequences of the spread of a pathogen at the global level.
In addition to the provisions which prohibit the production, transfer and possession of bacteriological and toxin weapons, other fundamental articles of the Convention protect the right of each Member State to promote and participate in the exchange of equipment, materials, scientific and technological information as well as the transfer of biological agents and toxins to be used for peaceful purposes (medical research, for example).
Each State Party is also committed by Art. VII to providing assistance or any other kind of support to any Member State which, according to the UN Security Council, has been a victim of a breach of the Convention.
The identification and prevention of activities in contrast with the BWC is made particularly complex by the fact that any organism capable of causing diseases or infections (such as bacteria and viruses) or toxin can be potentially altered to become offensive. This issue is aggravated by the absence of a real verification and monitoring mechanism in the framework of the Convention. A proposal to adopt a protocol to this end was finally rejected in 2001, after six years of negotiations.
To date, the most effective mechanisms at our disposal for the verification of the BWC implementation by its Member States are represented by the Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) – a voluntary system of information exchange – and periodic Review Conferences, interspersed by an intersessional period. Finally, in 2022, the 9th Review Conference established the Working Group dedicated to the strengthening of the Convention.
Preparatory Committee of the Ninth Review Conference (4-11 April 2022): general exchange of views (Dr. Elena Gai)
2021 Meeting of the States Parties (22-25 November 2021): General Debate (Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato)
2019 Meeting of the States Parties (3-6 December 2019): General Debate (Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato)
2019 Meetings of the Groups of Experts (29 July – 8 August 2019) – MX1 (Cooperation and Assistance): agenda item 9, agenda item 10. MX3 (Strengthening national implementation): agenda item 4. MX5 (Institutional Strengthening of the Convention): agenda item 4 (Mr. Tancredi Francese).
2018 Meeting of the States Parties (4-7 December 2018): General Debate (Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato)
2018 Meetings of the Groups of Experts (7-16 August 2018) – MX1 (Cooperation and Assistance): agenda item 4, agenda item 9 (Mr Alessandro Mandanici). MX3 (Strengthening national implementation): agenda item 4 (Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato). MX4 (Assistance, Response and Preparedness): agenda item 8 (Dott. Alessandro Mandanici). MX5 (Institutional Strengthening of the Convention): agenda item 4 (Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato).
2017 Meeting of the States Parties (4-8 December 2017): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 4 December)
8th Review Conference of the BTWC (7-25 November 2016): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 9 November)
Second Preparatory Committee of the 8th Review Conference (8-12 August 2016): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 8 August)
First Preparatory Committee of the 8th Review Conference (26-27 April 2016): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 26 April)
2015 Meeting of the States Parties (14-18 December): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 14 December)
2015 Meeting of Experts (10-14 August): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 10 August); Article X (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 11 August)
2014 Meeting of the States Parties (1-5 December): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 1 December)
2014 Meeting of Experts (4-8 August: Article X (Dr. Francesca Cerutti, 5 August)
2013 Meeting of the States Parties (9-13 December): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 9 December)
Documents and Resources
Biological Weapons Convention – Ninth Review Conference
Final Document of the Ninth Review Conference
Working Group on the Strengthening of the Convention