Multilateral accords crucial for fighting bio-terrorism, UN symposium told

Multilateral accords crucial for fighting bio-terrorism, UN symposium told

Governments cannot rely on national defence systems alone, but must coordinate their efforts through international agreements to fight the threat of bio-terrorism, according to the President of a United Nations conference on biological weapons.

Tibor Tóth, the President of the Fifth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention, was speaking at a symposium held at the UN Headquarters earlier this week. Referring to last year's anthrax episodes in the United States, he said that "for the first time a real event, a real-time development" made the public fully aware of the threat of bio-terrorism. The anthrax episode highlighted how every State - no matter how large and powerful - was vulnerable, so bio-terrorism must be fought by "a mix" of conventional defence systems and legally binding international instruments.

Since coming into force in 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention, which bans the development, production and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons, has been limited by the absence of any formal verification regime to monitor compliance. A panel member at the symposium, Alfredo Labbe Villa of Chile, said there were grounds for pushing forward for a verification protocol that at least some countries could accede to. Mr. Labbe Villa said the outcome of the Review Conference would be important in the fight against bio-terrorism, but stressed that international legislation was also necessary.

Disagreements as to how concrete the final declaration should be and the appropriate mix between national and international commitments, caused the Fifth Review Conference to end its session last July without reaching a final agreement. Mr. Tóth conceded that "the Review Conference did not live up to expectations." Talks will resume in November.