Biological Weapons Convention must be strengthened, says Green Cross at 40th anniversary United Nations meeting

Geneva, Switzerland: Countries must do more to control and secure biological weapons, pathogens and diseases, and thereby reduce the risk of accidental or terrorist use, according to Green Cross International.

Dr. Paul Walker, Green Cross International’s Director of Environmental Security and Sustainability, said the 166 countries that have joined the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) must take stronger action in their own countries, and globally, to prevent the potential misuse of dangerous and deadly pathogens, and to control their handling and transportation, so that world security is not endangered.

“There is a real risk that biological pathogens, causing such diseases as Ebola, avian flu, smallpox, plague, anthrax, and many other contagious and zoonotic diseases, can accidentally escape from laboratories around the world, or terrorists may potentially steal them and then use as biological weapons, causing great and indiscriminate harm as a consequence,” said Dr. Walker.  “To prevent this, scientists and their professional associations must adopt and adhere to strict codes of conduct, safety, and security to prevent the escape and misuse of biological pathogens.”

Governments staged a weeklong meeting on the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) at the United Nations in Geneva. The conference ended on Friday, 14 December 2012, in an “inter-sessional process” between the 2011 and 2016 Five-Year BWC Review Conferences.

During the annual meeting, which marks the treaty’s 40th anniversary, Green Cross International staged a side event on Thursday 13 December at 1pm titled: “Responsible Research for Global Biosecurity: Progress to Date.”  The side event featured Marina Voronova-Abrams, a Senior Research Fellow of Global Green USA (the US national affiliate of Green Cross International); Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, Associate Vice President of Federal Relations of the Association of American Universities and co-author of the recent report, Bridging Science and Security for Biological Research; and Giulio Mancini, Programme Officer of the Landau Network-Centro Volta in Italy.

“The main objective of the UN meeting is to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention regime, and further protect public health and the environment, as a means for building a secure and sustainable world,” Dr. Walker said.

Dr. Walker added: “Given we do not have a global verification and inspection system for bio-labs in the pharmaceutical industry, it is becoming increasingly incumbent on scientists and the professional community to police themselves, with anything that is potentially weapons-related or ‘dual-use,’ so that biological pathogens and technologies, are dealt with and people are, in turn, protected.”

Special attention is also needed to bring some 30 non-member countries into the Biological Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1975 and prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, retention, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons.

GCI, founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993, is an independent non-profit and nongovernmental organization working to address the inter-connected global challenges of security, poverty and environmental degradation through a combination of advocacy and local projects. GCI is headquartered in Geneva and has a network of national organizations present in almost 30 countries located around the world.

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