Thursday, December 15, 2011

Africa: Africa and the Convention Banning Biological and Toxin Weapons

Source: ISS

Africa and the Convention Banning Biological and Toxin Weapons

Noel Stott, Senior Research Fellow, Arms Management Programme, ISS Pretoria Office

The Seventh Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC) is presently taking place in Geneva – having started on 5 December and due to close on 22 December 2011. The BTWC opened for signature in April 1972 and entered into force in March 1975. It was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons effectively prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, transfer, retention, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons. States Parties undertake never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile 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, protective 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 XII and every five years, States Parties review the operation of the BTWC, taking into account, for example, allegations of non-compliance and any new scientific and bio-technological developments that may impact on its effective functioning. So far, six Review Conferences have been held (1980, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001/2 and 2006).

As of November 2011, 37 African countries are States Parties. African States that have signed the BTWC but have not yet ratified are: Central African Republic, Côte d`Ivoire, Egypt, Liberia, Malawi, Somalia and United Republic of Tanzania. African States that are not members are: Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Mauritania and Namibia. The Republic of South Sudan, which became independent in July 2011 resulting in the creation of Africa’s 54th state will, over time, be required to accede to dozens of bilateral, multilateral and international treaties and conventions, including the BTWC.

The relatively low number of ratifying states in Africa should be viewed in contrast to the near universalisation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in Africa, which is largely due to the numerous outreach activities of the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Universalisation in Africa is however essential to strengthening the convention and it is evident that a more sustained and concentrated effort is needed to achieve this. Because any discussion about universalisation in Africa needs to address issues of assistance to states that may require it, ways to strengthen the resources of the BTWC’s Implementation Support Unit (ISU) must be found.

The ISU was established by the Sixth Review Conference in 2006, and is based in the Geneva Branch of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, with only three full-time staff members. With the growth in demands by States, there is a clear need for the ISU functioning to be improved both in terms of staffing but more importantly in terms of its mandate and finances and thus its ability to match expressed needs with offers of support and assistance and to monitor such relationships between co-operating states. Article IV of the Convention requires each State Party to "take any necessary measures to prohibit and prevent the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, or retention of the agents, toxins, weapons, equipment and means of delivery specified in Article I of the Convention, within the territory of such State, under its jurisdiction or under its control anywhere". Many African States do not have specific domestic legislation criminalizing the engagement in unlawful acts under the BTWC. The ISU should also be able to assist in this regard taking into account the various legal systems operating on the continent.

In general, Africa’s primary concern is not the intentional misuse of science to cause harm, but rather, the risk posed by naturally occurring infectious and other disease outbreaks particularly African viral haemorrhagic fevers - which include Ebola, Marburg, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), Rift Valley fever (RVF), hantavirus infection with renal syndrome, Lassa fever and related arenaviral infections - and the public and private sector’s ability to mitigate and respond to them. Africa is also the region where more could, and should, be done with regard to improving scientific research and diagnostic facilities and where biosafety measures remain insufficient and under-resourced. The establishment, as announced by South Africa during the 2009 Meeting of States Parties to the BTWC, of the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS) is thus a welcomed development. SACIDS is headquartered at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania and is a consortium of 25 Southern African medical and veterinary, academic and research institutions involved with infectious diseases of humans and animals (and eventually also plant health) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania.

The BTWC is a key element in the international community’s efforts to continually address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The 7th Review Conference provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the Convention and to set the agenda for the next Review Cycle. By placing the BTWC into a developmental context and highlighting the socio-economic benefits of universalisation and full implementation, it is an opportunity that ought not be missed by the States Parties present at the Review Conference.

All African States, whether States Parties to the BTWC or not should participate in the 7th Review Conference.

Those African states that have not yet signed or ratified the BTWC, should be encouraged to do so urgently.

Additional programmes, including sponsorship arrangements, should be developed to assist African states to fully participate in, for example, the conferences of the BTWC so that they may actively participate in international non-proliferation and disarmament fora.
The African Union should be engaged in relation to WMD issues in general so as to promote more ‘buy-in’ into what is largely perceived to be a concern of the developed world.
Regional meetings should be organised in order to provide African states with the opportunity to contextualise issues of relevance for the continent with respect to the BTWC.

An audit of the number of African laboratories with insufficient biosafety and security measures should be drawn up and a continental action plan to correct this devised.
Easily accessible educational programmes and materials on the BTWC should be developed specifically for African government officials and scientists in order for them to better understand their non-proliferation, safety and security obligations.

States Parties and non-governmental organisations should be encouraged to raise awareness of the risks associated with dual-use research.

The BTWC should be located within an African developmental context and the socio-economic benefits of full implementation should be highlighted.

African States should support the establishment of an appropriate mechanism for the effective implementation of Article X which deals with international co-operation and assistance.
African States should urge the Review Conference to improve the ISU’s functioning by increasing its finances and staff capacity.