By Mustapha Jallow
Officials from the Ministry of Defence, international partners and other stakeholders, yesterdayAugust 29 opened the discussion on the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in the Gambia.
The Biological Weapons Convention, according to officials, was signed on 10 April, 1972 and entered into force on 26 March, which was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.
In addition to addressing disarmament and security issues, the BWC promotes the appropriate uses of biological science and technology, thereby facilitating capacity-building, assistance and cooperation among state parties at both bilateral and multilateral levels.
Organized by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNDODA) with funding from the Global Partnership against the Spread Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, the discussion focused on how stakeholders would share views and work together to identify the purposes of BWC and how it would be implemented in the country.
The meeting was held at the Kairaba International Conference Centre in Bijilo and the two-day session brought together diplomats, experts from UN-Agencies, government officials and senior security officers from various Departments.
“I want to reaffirm the Government of the Gambia’s commitment to the BWC to create a world free of Biological weapons. The Gambia does not have chemical or biological weapons, but will continue to work with all member states of this Convention to support global efforts in combating the use of biological weapons in order to achieve a world free of biological weapons,” said Interior Minister, Seyaka Sonko while declaring the event open on behalf of the Defence Minister.
Therefore, he added, strengthening the biological weapons disarmament regime is important for global peace and security.
“It is essential to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention to motivate non-member states to accede to the Convention and create better awareness for member states of the Biological Weapons Convention to effectively implement the Convention,” he says.
James Pettit, the Legal Officer, UNODA explained how the world is dealing with multiple crises, particularly COVID-19 which demonstrated collective vulnerability in the face of a 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, he added.
To this end and within the context of the project to support the universalization and effective implementation of the BWC in Africa, Pettit stated that the UNODA has significantly increased its presence on the continent.
According to him, through the project, UNODA is now in a position to provide tailor-made support to all African States interested in joining or strengthening their implementation of the Convention.
Over the course of the next two days, he added: “We will discuss State Party rights and obligations under the Convention and the importance of comprehensive national implementation, as well as having opportunities to interact with one another, international experts and counterparts from the region to share experiences, challenges and good practices and build and strengthen stakeholder networks.”
For his part, Nick Brewington, Regional Security Officer, United States Embassy in the Gambia said: “One of the highest priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration is to partner with African nations to help find solutions to the world’s pressing needs. I knew that, only through working together, can we achieve our shared goal of minimizing biological threats.”
He said the United States attaches great importance to achieving the full and effective implementation of the Convention; adding that biological weapons are primarily believed to be intended for use against humans, but they can also be used against animals and crops.
“The economic and environmental effects can be devastating,” said Brewington.
He acknowledged the intensive and generous partnership of UNODA, the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction, of which the United States is a funder, and the Implementation Support Unit of the BWC, for working with African partners to achieve this goal.