The Biological Weapons Convention

Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the development, production and stockpiling of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction, was opened for signature on 10 April 1972. The BWC entered into force on 26 March 1975.

The Second Review Conference (1986) agreed that the States Parties were to implement a number of confidence-building measures (CBM) in order to prevent or reduce the occurrence of ambiguities, doubts and suspicions and in order to improve international co-operation in the field of peaceful biological activities. The CBMs were expanded by the Third Review Conference (1991).

Under these agreements, the States Parties undertook to provided annual reports – using agreed forms – on specific activities related to the BWC including: data on research centres and laboratories; information on vaccine production facilities; information on national biological defence research and development programmes; declaration of past activities in offensive and/or defensive biological research and development programmes; information on outbreaks of infectious diseases and similar occurrences caused by toxins; publication of results and promotion of use of knowledge and contacts; information on legislation, regulations and other measures.

Recognizing the need to further strengthen the BWC, a group of governmental experts (VEREX) was established at the Third Review Conference (1991) to identify and examine potential verification measures from a scientific and technical standpoint. At a Special Conference in September 1994, the States parties agreed to establish the Ad Hoc Group of the States parties to the BWC in order to negotiate and develop a legally-binding verification regime for the Convention.

The Fourth Review Conference (1996) welcomed the decision of the Ad Hoc Group to intensify its work with a view to completing it before the Fifth Review Conference to be held in 2001. The Ad Hoc Group was unable to conclude the negotiations on the draft legal instrument (protocol).

Due to persisting divergent views and positions on certain key issues, the Fifth Review Conference (2001) decided to adjourn its proceedings and resume its work in November 2002 in Geneva. The Conference was reconvened in November 2002 and adopted a Final Report that included a decision to hold annual meetings of States parties and experts meetings in the next three years leading up to the Review Conference in 2006.

The Sixth Review Conference (2006) succeeded in comprehensively reviewing the Convention, adopting a final document by consensus. The States parties adopted a detailed plan for promoting universal adherence and decided to update and streamline the procedures for submission and distribution of the Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs). They also adopted a comprehensive intersectional program spanning from 2007 to 2010. In a significant development, the Conference agreed to establish an Implementation Support Unit (ISU) to assist States parties in implementing the Convention.