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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Annan calls for strategy to prevent biological weapons falling into terrorists' hands

20 November 2006 Stressing that “the horror of biological weapons is shared by all,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called for a comprehensive strategy that will tackle the possibility of such arms falling into the hands of terrorists.

“Certainly, we need to deal with disarmament and non-proliferation in the traditional sense,” he told the opening session of the Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva.

“But we must also address terrorism and crime at the non-State and individual levels, with responses encompassing public health, disaster relief and efforts to ensure that the peaceful uses of biological science and technology can safely reach their potential,” he added, urging Member States to build on the Convention’s past successes to ensure that it continues to serve as an effective barrier against biological weapons.

Mr. Annan noted that he had already proposed the convening of a forum that would bring together the various stakeholders – industry, science, public health, governments, and the public ¬– to ensure that biotechnology's advances continue to be used for the benefit of humanity while the risks are managed.

“This review conference can make a major contribution to that effort,” he declared. “I urge you to bring together the capacities of all who are gathered here. Treaties are an essential part of the multilateral system, and can be strengthened by building bridges to different fields. This would also ensure that our actions are complementary and mutually reinforcing.”

In the five years since the last review conference, global circumstances have changed, and risks evolved, with a strong focus on preventing terrorism, he said. Advances in biological science and technology continue to accelerate, promising enormous benefits for human development, but also posing potential risks.

“These changes mean that we can no longer view the Convention in isolation, as simply a treaty prohibiting States from obtaining biological weapons,” he added. “Rather, we must look at it as part of an interlinked array of tools, designed to deal with an interlinked array of problems.”

Being better prepared to deal with terrorism also requires better public health systems overall, he noted. “I urge you to find, once again, creative and resourceful ways around them,” he concluded. “Far more unites you than divides you. The horror of biological weapons is shared by all. As the Convention states, their use would be ‘repugnant to the conscience of mankind.’ I urge you to seize the opportunity presented by this conference and I can assure you that the United Nations will continue to support you.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Annan also inaugurated a new building in Geneva that will house the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“This house will not only bring UNAIDS and WHO closer together,” he said. “It will also be a meeting place for ideas, a centre for dialogue, a forum bringing together people and organizations, in the UN and beyond, to strengthen the global response against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. In this way, the building will be a nerve centre in our mission to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and build better lives for people in the 21st century.”

The Secretary-General thanked Switzerland for the loan that allowed the two UN bodies to come together in the one building.

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