General Debate of the 8th Conference of the BTWC
Statement by H.E. Henk Cor van der Kwast. Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. 7 November 2016.
First of all, congratulations on your election as President of the 8th Review Conference and by complimenting you for your preparations, in particular the extensive consultations you held, in the run-up to the RevCon. Let me assure you that you have the full support of my delegation in making this Conference a success.
In addition to the statement by the EU, the Netherlands wishes to make the following remarks.
As we are all defining our hopes and expectations for the 8th RevCon here today, let me quote your predecessor as Chair of the 7th Review Conference, my fellow countryman, Ambassador Paul van den IJssel: “A positive outcome means two things: consensus, but also ambition. I hope we all agree that we should be guided by ambition when we are determining our aims for the RevCon. At the same time we should keep an eye on what is doable and realistic.”
These words still hold true today. The main aim of the Netherlands for the 8th RevCon is to secure an outcome that further strengthens the Convention. In our view, this outcome should contain the following six elements.
1. Supporting national implementation
First, it is essential to strengthen national implementation of the Convention if we are to successfully contain the risks of biological weapons. This can for example be done through creating criminal legislation and/or establishing appropriate biosafety and biosecurity measures. The Netherlands therefore believes assisting states in need of technical and/or legislative support is crucial. That is why we contributed to an ‘online’ legislative drafting tool for the BWC.
2. Enhancing compliance with the Convention by building confidence
Second, in the absence of a binding verification protocol, it is important to build confidence by sharing information between States Parties in order to enhance compliance. The inter-sessional process has identified innovative approaches to strengthen compliance, such as the Peer Review Mechanism, a voluntary transparency exercise: this Peer Review Mechanism is a concrete initiative to enhance national implementation, to improve compliance through confidence-building and increased transparency amongst States Parties, and to strengthen international cooperation while respecting national sovereignty. Previous Peer Review exercises in France, Germany, Spain, Canada, Chile, Ghana, Mexico, the United States and the BENELUX countries have proven to be valuable to increase awareness amongst national stakeholders and provide for a mutual learning experience. The BENELUX approach to the peer review concept involved declarations in the form of the BTWC Confidence Building Measures, CBMs, written and oral consultations and on-site visits to relevant facilities. A formula for success!
3. Promoting universality
Third, the ultimate goal is to have a universally legally binding Convention. We very much welcome the new State Parties to the BTWC: Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and our new neighbour Nepal. Furthermore, it remains essential to reach out to those states that have not yet legally committed themselves to the non-proliferation and disarmament of biological and toxin weapons and to urge them to do so without delay.
4. Giving decision making power to the intersessional proces
Fourth, enhancing the effectiveness of the Convention and responsiveness of it to new scientific developments is a responsibility of all States Parties. The five year intervals between review conferences and therefore between the opportunity to take binding measures are a serious obstacle in increasing the BTWC’s effectiveness. Therefore the Netherlands believes that we should make the most of every meeting of States Parties by giving it decision-taking power.
5. Incorporating developments in Science and Technology
Fifth, rapid and significant developments in the life sciences are accompanied by growing concerns about possible misuse of life sciences for terrorist or criminal purposes. Dual-use research poses biosecurity risks. Therefore, advances in biological science and technology should be taken into account in the proceedings of the BTWC. Governments as well as the scientific community have a collective responsibility that scientific advances will only be used in support of peace, security and development. Therefore, we must continuously and constructively engage scientific experts in the Convention. To this end the Netherlands’ delegation to this RevCon, but also earlier at the most recent PrepComs, includes experts from the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.
Several proposals have been put forward by states in the run-up to this RevCon to enlarge the engagement of scientific experts and create a more structured arrangement for reviewing S&T developments within the framework of the BTWC. The Netherlands fully supports these objectives. We hope that these proposals can now lead to a flexible, open and geographically diverse structure that renders specialized advice to States Parties on developments in S&T relevant to the Convention.
6. Strengthening the ISU
Sixth, the Netherlands supports strengthening the role of the ISU, by prolonging its mandate, expanding its staff and strengthening its tasks in the implementation of the next inter-sessional work programme. Given the tremendous work done by the ISU, we are in fact helping ourselves by expanding its capacities.
Lastly, this RevCon should help raise biosecurity awareness and further assist the development of relevant steps taken in this area.
Let me conclude by saying that the Netherlands is committed to working closely with all States Parties in a constructive manner in order to secure an outcome at the RevCon that further strengthens the Convention.