Annan urges action on biological-weapons threat

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called on Monday for stronger efforts to protect the world against biological weapons, which he said pose a growing threat due to advances in science and technology.

Annan told the Geneva-based Convention on Biological Weapons (BWC) that awareness of the dangers had been heightened by the twin global focus on terrorism and natural diseases such as bird flu, two scourges which could be combined as biological weapons.

The time had come to “take further steps to ensure that the convention will continue to serve as an effective barrier against biological weapons,” Annan said in a speech to the BWC’s sixth review conference.

In the five years since the previous review, countries had agreed on tighter security rules for dealing with dangerous pathogens and strengthened surveillance of potential disease outbreaks, he said.

But biological science and technology had also made huge strides in that time, “promising enormous benefits for human development, but also posing potential risks”, he said.

Annan said the 31-year-old convention, with its emphasis on preventing states from developing biological weaponry, could not provide total protection on its own. Terrorism and crime at the non-state and individual level also had to be addressed.

Annan repeated a call for a new international forum bringing together governments, scientists, representatives of industry and the general public to develop a new strategy for facing up to the menace.

“The horror of biological weapons is shared by all,” he said, urging the 155 states party to the BWC treaty to overcome their differences and take further action.

Years of negotiation on a new protocol to strengthen the treaty ended in failure in 2001 because the United States opposed such measures as spot checks on laboratories to monitor compliance.

The review conference runs until December 8.—Reuters

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