Achieving Universality

The Biological Weapons Convention currently has 185 States Parties and four Signatory States. There are eight States which have neither signed nor acceded to the Convention.

Achieving the full universality of the Convention has long been seen as a priority by BWC States Parties. At the Eighth Review Conference in 2016, they agreed to continue to promote universalization and reiterated “the high importance of universalization, in particular by affirming the particular importance of the ratification of the Convention by signatory states and accession to the Convention by those which have not signed the Convention, without delay.”

The Chairperson of the annual Meeting of States Parties, supported by the Implementation Support Unit, coordinates universalization efforts. States Parties have also decided to:

  1. Promote universalization of the Convention through bilateral contacts with States not party
  2. Promote universalization through regional and multilateral fora and activities
  3. Report, as appropriate, on their activities at the annual Meetings of States Parties
  4. Provide the Implementation Support Unit with information on relevant activities

Joining the Biological Weapons Convention

The BWC is open to all States to join. Each State undertakes the process of ratifying, acceding or succeeding to the Convention in accordance with its own national constitutional process. Often formal approval by the national parliament is required. Once the domestic requirements have been satisfied, an instrument of accession, ratification or succession should be deposited with one or more of the three Depositary Governments. Details on how to do so are provided below in the “Information on the Depositories” section. When the instrument is received by one or more of the Depository Governments, the State concerned then becomes a State Party to the Convention.

  • A State can ratify the Convention if it signed the BWC before its entry into force on 26 March 1975. A list of States which have signed but not ratified the Convention is available here. In order to ratify, a State should deposit an instrument of ratification with one, two or all three Depositary States.
  • A State can accede to the BWC if it did not sign the Convention before it entered into force on 26 March 1975. A list of States which have not signed the Convention is available here. In order to accede, the State should deposit its instrument of accession with one, two or all three Depositary States.
  • For States depositing their instruments of ratification or accession after the entry into force of the Convention, the BWC shall enter into force on the date of deposit.
  • A State that has become newly independent since the BWC entered into force on 26 March 1975 may also be eligible to succeed to the Convention. A State is eligible to succeed if the Convention had applied to it whilst it was part of another State e.g. when the application of the BWC was expressly extended to cover its territory by virtue of being a colony of a State party to the Convention. This information can be found in the lists of treaties that applied to the State before gaining independence that are normally transmitted to the new government by the former ruling State.
  • A newly independent State will not normally automatically succeed to the BWC – an instrument of succession is usually required, and is advisable in order to demonstrate the State’s express intent to be bound to the Convention. Some States have made general declarations of succession which should be backed up by formal instruments of succession to clarify their intent to join the BWC.

For information purposes only, models of instruments for ratification, accession or succession to the BWC are available for download:

Depositaries of the BWC 

Article XIV of the BWC designates three States as the Depositary Governments:

  • Russian Federation
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • United States of America

States not yet party to the Convention may deposit their instruments and other communications and notifications with any one of them, or a combination of the three. The Depositaries maintain their own lists of States party to the Convention according to the instruments deposited with them, and liaise with one another when necessary to update their own lists of States parties and/or when more than one Depositary receives an instrument from the same State.

The Convention takes effect for a new State Party on the day on which an instrument is deposited. The exact date the instrument is received by the Depositary government is therefore crucial, as it determines exactly when a State is bound by international law to exercise the rights and obligations that the treaty concerned provides.

Russian Federation

Legal Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya Square
Moscow 121 200
Russian Federation
Telephone: 00 7 499 241 77 18
Fax: 00 7 499 241 11 66

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Treaty Section
(Legal Directorate)
Room WH 2.143
King Charles Street
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
London SW1A 2AH
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

(Note: Envelopes should be marked “For the attention of the BWC Depositary”)

United States of America

Office of the Assistant Legal Adviser for Treaty Affairs
United States Department of State
Suite 5420
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
United States of America
Telephone: 00 1 202 647 1345

(Note: states wishing to deposit in Washington are advised to forward their instruments of ratification/accession to the Treaty Office through their embassies in Washington. Embassy staff should then call the Depositary Officer at the Treaty Office on the phone number above to schedule an appointment for hand-delivery of the instrument if desired.)