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The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention


The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) 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 183 States and signed by an additional 4.

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 BTWC 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 BTWC implementation by its Member States are represented by the Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) – a voluntary system of information exchange – and periodic Review Conferences, which are usually held once every five years. In the interval between the Review Conferences, intersessional work is carried out by annual Meetings of Experts and Meetings of the State Parties. The next Review Conference will take place in November 2021.

For Italy, which considers the BWC as a fundamental instrument for the prohibition of the production, development, acquisition and use of biological agents and toxins as weapons of mass destruction, the universalization of the Convention and its strengthened implementation are priorities.

With a view to the 2016 Review Conference, Italy’s work has focused on the following topics:

  • Consolidating the Confidence-Building Measures, including the exchange of information and best practices among Member States and the creation of a peer review process;
  • Assistance to States victims of a biological attack and strengthening of the capacity to respond to natural biological threats. In this framework, Italy has enhanced the activities carried out in its national centres of excellence in response to the threat posed by the Ebola virus;
  • Emphasizing the need for appropriate control measures so that exchanges of materials, technology and knowledge relevant to the Convention do not take place for purposes prohibited by the Convention.

Finally, Italy is particularly committed to ensuring the appropriate monitoring and evaluation of technological and scientific developments in the field of biology that may have a negative impact on the implementation of the Convention. In doing so, it has sought to strengthen the already existing ties between the scientific and diplomatic communities. To this end, Italy has organized a first “side event” at the Conference of State parties which took place in December 2014, in collaboration with the European Commission and UNICRI, on the importance of international cooperation to mitigate chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear risks

Main Statements

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

The Biological Weapons Convention


Final Document of the 2017 Meeting of the States Parties

Final Document of the 8th Review Conference of the BWC (2016)

Additional agreements reached by previous Review Conferences relating to each article of the Convention

UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (Geneva and New York)

Implementation Support Unit of the BWC