Given that the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has already attracted 190 states parties, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) has become something of a laggard. Not just in terms of numbers, but also regarding the time it has taken to secure the 170 ratifications or accessions. It entered into force in 1975, or 22 years before the CWC became effective.
Over the past decade and a half parties to the BTWC have stepped up their efforts to secure more ratifications and accessions. Unlike the CWC, the BTWC does not have an international implementation organisation that can take charge of universalisation initiatives or assist members with the national implementation of their treaty obligations. In 2006, the 6th BTWC Review Conference decided to establish a small Implementation Support Unit (ISU), which is embedded in the Geneva branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), to coordinate and facilitate a variety of activities in support of treaty universalisation and implementation. Since then there has been a notable increase in both the number and effectiveness of events to turn the BTWC into a truly global prohibition on biological and toxin weapons. Several states are now on the verge of becoming a party, and chances are that some will join the convention in the course of 2014.
One such state is Nepal, a small kingdom that embraces the Himalayas. Despite having signed the convention on 10 April 1972, it is besides Myanmar the only continental Asian state not to be a party to the BTWC. The ISU and UNODA’s regional office in Kathmandu, the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD), convened a meeting on 20–21 February to promote early ratification and discuss assistance modalities for the development of national implementation legislation as required under Article IV of the convention. The European Union funded the event through its Action Plan in support of the BTWC.
A dynamic meeting
Twelve ministries and government agencies participated in the workshop. They included foreign affairs, defence, justice, the interior, science and technology, and different law enforcement agencies, among others. Ms Ambika Devi Luitel, Officiating Foreign Secretary of Nepal, Ambassador of the European Union to Nepal Rensje Teerink and UNRCPD Director Sharon Riggle welcomed the participants and outlined the meeting goals. Mrs Jacklin Georges of the ISU laid out the types of decisions she expected to come out of the workshop in order to be able to determine the types of legislative assistance Nepal might require and an assistance calendar before the EU Action Plan expires at the end of 2014. I had the pleasure of giving a general background briefing on the BTWC and its history and an overview of the confidence-building measures parties to the BTWC are supposed to be engaged in. My colleague from VERTIC, Ms Yasemin Balci, detailed the legislative requirements under the BTWC and other legal obligations that may result from being a party to the convention and UN Security Council Resolution 1540. She also described VERTIC’s legislative assistance programme and the ways in which the organisation collaborates with the ISU.
As is usual in such workshops, most participants are exposed for the first time to the details of the BTWC, the reasons why their country should become a state party, and the responsibilities it will assume after ratification (or accession). Fortunately, the meeting itself built on an ISU-organised regional seminar on universalisation held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 2–4 September 2013. Two representatives from the Nepalese Defence Ministry attended, who at the Kathmandu workshop revealed themselves as true social entrepreneurs. More than any foreigner could have done, they were able to answer the specific questions any Nepalese official had and overcome any lingering (bureaucratic) hesitation. At the same time, Sharon Riggle, given her excellent understanding of Nepalese consultation culture, recommended a couple of times that the foreign experts withdraw from the deliberations. The (to a foreigner such as myself) animated discussions in Nepali invariably led to concrete outcomes, that enabled the ISU to come away with a concrete time line for future activities.
I left the two days of meetings with the impression that Nepal is keen on ratifying the BTWC soon. In the end, the only remaining obstacle is a fully functioning parliament. The Nepalese participants, however, felt confident about the future of their political system, and desired to proceed with the legislative preparations so as to be ready on the day their country finally becomes a full party to the BTWC.