Southern African States fortify capacity to combat biological threats and implement Biological Weapons Convention

March 28th, 2024

In a bid to strengthen regional cooperation and bolster national implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), 60 delegates from ten Southern African states and international and regional organisations convened in Gaborone, Botswana, from 12 to 14 March 2024 for a three-day workshop.

The event, organised by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) in partnership with the Ministry of Defence and Security of Botswana, aimed to fortify the region’s capacity to combat biological threats and promote adherence to international disarmament norms and standards. In addition, representatives of Portugal, the United States, the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH), the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC), and the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC) were in attendance.

On the opening day, delegates heard from the Honourable Thomas Kagiso Mmusi, Botswana’s Minister of Defence and Security, who stated that “the Biological Weapons Convention represents a cornerstone of the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime and reaffirms our commitment to the peaceful uses of biological sciences and technology”. The coordinator of UNODA’s project to support implementation of the BWC in Africa, Sylvain Fanielle, noted that “while the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated our collective vulnerability in the face of disease that spreads rapidly across borders and causes incalculable human, social and economic damage, it also brought biosafety and biosecurity to the forefront of international peace and security planning,” noting therefore the timely organisation of the workshop.

Honourable Thomas Kagiso Mmusi, Minister of Defence and Security of Botswana, delivering opening remarks.

The workshop served as a platform for participating States to provide updates on the progress of BWC implementation at the national level. Delegates discussed rights and obligations under the Convention and interacted with their counterparts from the region, with a view to sharing experiences, challenges and best practices, and to strengthening networks and working relationships to enhance BWC implementation. Delegates’ presentations highlighted efforts related to developing and adopting national implementing legislation, the roles of National Contact Points (NCPs), processes to prepare and submit Confidence Building Measures CBMs), as well as initiatives focusing on biosafety and biosecurity.

Delegates also worked closely with UNODA to identify opportunities for technical assistance and capacity building support. In addition to plenary sessions, bilateral meetings between UNODA and participating delegations were conducted, facilitating deeper discussions on national assistance needs and priorities. These engagements laid the groundwork for tailored national workplans aimed at advancing BWC implementation in each represented State.

Furthermore, delegates were briefed on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004), which deals with preventing the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons to non-state actors, and the United Nations Secretary General Mechanism for the Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons.

Participants to the regional workshop gather for a group picture.

Notably, the workshop featured  panel discussions on the role of women and youth in disarmament, non-proliferation, biosafety, and biosecurity. Participants underscored the significance of gender and youth perspectives in shaping international security agendas, reinforcing the imperative of incorporating diverse voices in decision-making processes pertaining to biosecurity and disarmament.

This gathering marked a significant milestone in promoting BWC universalization and effective implementation across Africa, since it was the last in a series of sub-regional workshops that started in 2022. Moving forward, UNODA is poised to support participating States in executing the agreed-upon workplans and sustaining the momentum towards the full implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention.

The Biological Weapons Convention is an international treaty prohibiting the development, production, acquisition and stockpiling of biological weapons and is one of the fundamental pillars of the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime governing weapons of mass destruction. Entering into force in 1975, the BWC represents a landmark commitment by the international community to uphold peace and security by seeking to eliminate the threat posed by biological warfare. The BWC extends, however, beyond disarmament and non-proliferation and also aims at guaranteeing that biological agents and toxins are used only for peaceful purposes. This contributes to strengthening States’ scientific and technological capacities and supports preparedness and risk reduction and management, in turn contributing towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.