Center for Health Security Experts Attend Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) 9th Review Conference, Urge Endorsement of Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines
November 30, 2022 – A delegation from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security is attending the 9th Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), alongside representatives from 184 nations that have signed and ratified the treaty. The meeting is held from November 28-December 16 at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the treaty opening for signature in 1972.
During the meeting, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can provide input by submitting a statement, in both an individual capacity and jointly. The Center's statement called attention to the importance of engaging frontline scientists and raising awareness about the BWC and its impact on their work. The Center encouraged States Parties to endorse the Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists. Center experts helped developed these guidelines—in collaboration with experts from Tianjin University and the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP)—which aim to establish a framework for ensuring the responsible conduct of biological research.
The statement also called on countries to think critically about the benefits they want from treaty functions that address core BWC challenges, such as compliance assessment and verification. Historically, countries have argued the need for and the feasibility of a comprehensive treaty protocol that addresses compliance assessment and verification, resulting in stagnation and stalemate dating back to at least 2001. Longstanding disagreement on the scope of these issues cannot continue to stand as a barrier to concrete progress to strengthen treaty implementation and biological weapons nonproliferation norms. Countries need to identify their priority goals and select appropriate mechanisms, or combinations of mechanisms, in order to make incremental progress toward those goals in order to increase assurance in treaty compliance.
The full statement is available here.
Center experts also contributed to drafting and reviewing a joint NGO statement, which outlines priorities from civil society organizations and experts around the world regarding a broad scope of challenges facing the BWC, including treaty implementation, compliance, and enforcement; international support and assistance; and rapidly advancing biology and biotechnology capabilities.
In addition to these statements, the Center hosted and participated in several side events held during the meeting. On Monday, November 28, the Center debuted The BWC Global Forum: Biotech, Biosecurity & Beyond, a new podcast on the impact of emerging advances in biology on the BWC. During the event, the Center recorded a special Review Conference episode, with special guests from Tianjin University, the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The episode, along with the rest of Season 1, will be posted soon and will be available after the Review Conference concludes.
Center Deputy Director Anita Cicero and Senior Scholar Dr. Gigi Gronvall participated in an informational side event focused on the Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists, attended by representatives of more than 20 countries. H.E. Li Song, Chinese Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs, opened the session, during which delegates from Brazil, Pakistan, Philippines, Cuba, and Russian Federation declared their support for the BWC endorsing the guidelines. An endorsement by the States Parties during the 9th Review Conference would authoritatively communicate international support for these ethical principles, elevate awareness of them among the security and scientific communities, and accelerate the development of tools and educational and training materials to promote responsible biosecurity practices in research.
Additionally, Center Senior Analyst Amanda Kobokovich represented the ELBI Fellowship among the Youth for Biosecurity Network workshop and side event. The Youth for Biosecurity Network is a coalition of organizations with shared emphasis on mentoring upcoming biosecurity leaders and include the Center, iGEM, NTI, UNODA, and the Open Philanthropy Project. The Network facilitated the drafting of recommendations from youth scientists for the delegates to improve the operationalization of the BWC.
The BWC Review Conference is typically held every 5 years, and it provides a dedicated forum to review the treaty and take concrete steps to strengthen the treaty's implementation, including through proposals submitted by member countries. Countries also will negotiate an agenda for meetings, priority topics for debate, and other relevant activities over the next 5 years. The 8th Review Conference was held in 2016, and the 9th Review Conference was originally scheduled to be held in 2021; however, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the 2020 Meetings of Experts and Meeting of States Parties.
When it took effect in 1975, the BWC was the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban an entire category of weapons. The BWC effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling, and use of biological and toxin weapons and is a key element in the international community’s efforts to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.