Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity: introduction


The 'Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity' initiative of the ICRC is introduced here, along with background information about the prohibition of biological weapons.The ICRC's concept of the 'web of prevention', intended to contribute to minimizing the risks of the life sciences being used for hostile purposes, is outlined.




Falling sick from invisible germs is universally feared. Individuals, families and societies go to great lengths to protect their health. For many centuries poisoning and the deliberate spread of disease have been the subject of public abhorrence; they are proscribed in diverse cultures, religions and military traditions.

Today, advances in the life sciences carry enormous promise for humanity. But these advances will also pose acute risks to humanity and our environment if they are inadequately controlled or employed as a means of warfare, of spreading terror or otherwise misused.

The ICRC initiative on'Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity'was prompted by the need to reduce the risk that the life sciences will be used to the detriment of humanity. It is intended to provoke thoughtful reflection on the risksrulesresponsibilities , and related to advances in this area.  



Moreover, the'Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity'initiative is designed to promote more adaptive implementation of practical measures to prevent the use of the life sciences for hostile purposes, both by individual actors and in improving synergy between them. The ICRC describes this as the'web of prevention.'

The centrepiece of the ICRC's initiative is an appealarticle in the International Herald Tribune to governments, industry, science and medical communities, the military and civil society. This public appeal was launched on 25 September 2002. Two days later the President of the ICRC, Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, outlined the appeal in an . Prior to the public launch of this appeal there was a meeting of government and independent experts in Montreux , Switzerland, to discuss issues in the fields of biotechnology, biological weapons, international law, ethics and social responsibility.

Further information on the ICRC Appeal, the expert meeting in Montreux, the potential risks of the life sciences and international law on biological weapons can be found in this section.

Since the launch of the appeal, the ICRC has been working with actors in the life sciences to promote awareness of the norms against poison and the deliberate spread of disease and the need for preventive action, in conjunction with their responsibilities.