UNSGM experts join Basic Training Course in South Africa

August 15th, 2023

From 26 June – 7 July 2023, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) of South Africa, in cooperation with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, organized a basic training course for the United Nations Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigations of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (UNSGM) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The objective of the basic training courses for the UNSGM is to provide experts nominated by UN Member States to the UNSGM roster with a better understanding of their role in carrying out investigations of alleged use of biological weapons should they be deployed as part of a UNSGM mission. This includes key information about the UNSGM, including the background, mandate, Guidelines and Procedures, and other components of the mechanism. As a UNSGM investigation would likely be carried out by multidisciplinary team, basic training courses also aim to give an overview of the capabilities (and limitations) of other disciplines that may be involved, so that the experts can understand what is needed to support their colleagues and what can realistically be expected from the different fields. Finally, another crucial objective for the basic training courses is to introduce the experts to the support expected from different offices and departments of the United Nations, as well as the relevant UN processes in which the investigation would take place.

A group of 19 experts on the UNSGM roster from 17 countries attended the course in Johannesburg. Representatives from UNODA provided briefings on the UNSGM, such as its mandate and history, the roles and responsibilities of experts nominated to the roster, the UNSGM Guidelines and Procedures, coordination and support with other UN offices and departments, and report writing. A representative from the United Nations Department of Safety and Security shared guidance on operational safety and security, cultural awareness, mission planning, communication strategy and field communication. Representatives from NICD provided technical instruction on topics including risk assessment and personal protective equipment, sampling, sample packaging and transport, and decontamination. The course also benefitted from presentations by external partners on forensics and chain of custody, mis- and dis-information, options for on-site or in-situ analysis, information gathering, and investigative interviewing, among others.

In addition to the lectures and presentations, the course included several practical components for participants and concluded with a short field exercise. The groups were asked to plan their mission, conduct sampling and interviews, and write a preliminary report of their findings, putting into practice the knowledge acquired during the previous days of the course.

In addition to the support provided by NICD and the Government of South Africa, financial support for the workshop was generously provided by the European Union and the Government of Canada. 

For more information, please contact the UNODA team in support of the UNSGM at UNSGM@un.org.