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Biological weapons: ICRC calls for increased vigilance

30-11-2001 News Release 01/47

The ICRC called last week for increased vigilance and much greater openness in research and development of biological agents that may have military as well as civilian applications. The statement was made to the Fifth Review Conference of States Parties to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which is being held in Geneva from 19 November to 7 December.

" The ICRC considers any use of biological agents to cause illness, death or terror to be utterly repugnant and abhorrent acts. Indeed we consider that any efforts to use knowledge in the biological field to destroy rather than to improve human lives to be a particularly perverse form of inhumanity which deserves universal condemnation, " said François Bugnion, the ICRC's Director for International Law and Communication. Mr Bugnion emphasized that despite the existence of well-established norms against the hostile use of biological agents there are ample reasons for vigilance. These include the rapid development of biotechnology, the recent use of anthrax to spread terror and the risk that existing norms could be undermined. The ICRC official urged States to strengthen both the biological and chemical disarmament regimes.

The ICRC expressed its concern that nearly a decade of efforts to develop an effective and legally binding compliance-monitoring regime for the Biological Weapons Convention have not yet borne fruit and urged States Parties to resume efforts towards this end. In addition, the organization called for international cooperation in support of major improvements in the capacity of national health services to respond to the use or threat of use of biological weapons and to suspicious outbreaks of disease. To date, 144 States have ratified the Biological Weapons Convention.