Strengthening biosecurity in São Tomé and Príncipe: National workshop on the effective implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention and Resolution 1540 (2004)

March 19th, 2024

From 4 to 6 March 2024, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Communities of São Tomé and Príncipe gathered key national stakeholders and decision makers to raise awareness about the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004). Jointly organized by UNODA’s Biological Weapons Convention Team and the 1540 Support Unit, the workshop was an important step towards fostering national ownership and renewing commitment to the BWC, Resolution 1540, and biosafety and biosecurity issues more broadly among national experts and practitioners.

This event unfolded after São Tomé and Príncipe’s simultaneous submission of assistance requests to the Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1540 (1540 Committee) and under UNODA’s project aimed at bolstering the implementation and universalization of the BWC across Africa. Months of subsequent consultations and coordination with the authorities of Sao Tome and Principe culminated in a gathering of 38 participants representing over 20 national institutions as well as regional and international experts.

Participants gather around Mr. Jorge Amado, Minister of Defense and Internal Administration, and Mr. Eric Overvest, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sao Tome and Principe, for a group picture.

Among national participants were senior officials such as Mr. Jorge Amado, Minister of Defense and Internal Administration who inaugurated the workshop together with Mr. Eric Overvest, UN Resident Coordinator, and Mr. David Theard, Coordinator of the 1540 Group of Experts. In his opening remarks, Mr. Jorge Amado reiterated the commitment of São Tomé and Príncipe to the comprehensive, integrated, and effective national implementation of the BWC and Resolution 1540.

The workshop aimed at enhancing a shared understanding of the two instruments among all relevant actors, fostering cooperation and coordination among them to take advantage of diverse expertise during the implementation process and equipping participants with the tools to implement the BWC and Resolution 1540 effectively. Through interactive sessions and insightful discussions, the participants delved into the intricacies of biosecurity, exploring the synergies between the two instruments, and mapping out the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders.

International cooperation played a pivotal role, with representatives from Portugal and Angola sharing insights and lessons learnt on their respective experiences in implementing the BWC and Resolution 1540. This exchange of experience allowed São Tomé and Príncipe to better assess national implementation needs, including international assistance. In that regard, representatives of the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) also participated in the event, sharing assistance opportunities, and informing about the roles of the animal and human health sectors in strengthening biosecurity through the two instruments.

Mr. David Theard, Coordinator of the group of experts (1540), and UNODA staff, Ms. Einas Mohammed and Mr. Remi Bacouillard, address the workshop participants.

A highlight of the workshop was preparing São Tomé and Príncipe’s first Confidence Building Measures (CBM) report since joining the BWC in 1979. Facilitators led engaging exercises, ensuring that participants gained a good understanding of the objective and scope of CBMs, the six CBM forms and relevant information to be reported. In group discussions, participants also mapped national stakeholders that could potentially contribute to the national CBM reporting process, strengthening coordination across sectors within Sao Tome and Principe. Finally, participants established a national step-by-step approach to ensure the coordinated data collection and report preparation process.

Participants engage in group discussion to establish a national CBM reporting process.

The workshop not only resulted in new knowledge; it also sparked a commitment to action. Participants left with a draft roadmap, outlining concrete steps to lay the groundwork for enhanced biosecurity in São Tomé and Príncipe. The commitment exhibited by national authorities signaled a promising trajectory, with the potential for sustained momentum for the implementation of the BWC and Resolution 1540 in the years to come.