2019 Biological Weapons Convention Meeting of States Parties

The 2019 Meeting of States Parties (MSP) to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), chaired by Ambassador Yann Hwang of France, took place from 3–6 December in Geneva.

In the early evening of Friday, 6 December, states parties adopted a report [1] of the 2019 Meetings of States Parties. Similar to last year, the 2019 report lacks substance, and references to constructive discussions held at the 2019 Meetings of Experts (MXs) are kept to a minimum.

In an unusual move, Russia urged—on the last day of the meeting—for its written proposal reflecting on substantive discussions during past BWC meetings to be included in section VI referring to the consideration of the factual reports of the MXs in the draft report. Russia had circulated the document two days earlier but the MSP refused to consider the proposal for inclusion in the draft report due to the short notice. As a response, the MSP agreed to delete references in the report that take note of the Chair’s Aide Mémoire.

The vast majority of states parties welcomed the establishment of a Working Capital Fund and its positive impact, as was agreed upon during the 2018 MSP. However, the financial long-term stability of the Convention remains dire due to non-payment of assessed contributions by a few states parties. The MSP agreed to continue monitoring the financial situation of the Convention.

States also agreed for the next Meetings of Experts to take place 25 August–3 September 2020, and for the 2020 MSP to be held 8–11 December in Geneva. Ambassador Aliyar Lebbe Abdul Azeez of Sri Lanka will chair the MSP. The meeting approved Peter Beerweth of Germany as Vice-Chair and Robertas Rosinas of Lithuania. The MSP agreed that the Ninth Review Conference will be held from 8-26 November 2021 with the exact duration and dates to be determined due to continued disagreement among states parties.

This year also saw a considerable increase in gender references during the general debate of the MSP. This report will focus on those references. For detailed accounts of other aspects of the meeting, please see the summary reports by Richard Guthrie of the BioWeapons Prevention Project.

Steep increase in gender considerations: The BWC is catching up

Against the backdrop of increased inclusion of gender perspectives across and within various disarmament fora and topics, which RCW reported on elsewhere, the BWC has stepped up its efforts. This includes calls for greater gender diversity, better analysis of the gendered impacts of biological weapons and respective policy responses, as well as calls for the broader inclusion of gender perspectives in BWC processes. Twelve delegates[2] spoke to the topic across the four days of meetings. To compare, during this year’s MX, only three delegates had raised the issue, and at the 2018 MSP, no delegation did.

The increase of gender references follows a general uptick in calling for equal participation in the BWC, and the gendered impacts of biological weapons in the broader disarmament community. 

For example, the 2019 MXs featured the first side event ever on gender in the BWC context. Participants discussed possible differences in the effects of biological weapons on women and men and their significance for assistance, response, and preparedness. Relatedly, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Affairs (UNIDIR) recently published a new study entitled “Missing links: understanding sex- and gender-related impacts of chemical and biological weapons.” The publication argues that sex- and gender-disaggregated data, as well as knowledge of gender perspectives, can contribute to states’ preparedness and enhance the effectiveness of assistance under the BWC.
Moreover, the 2019 First Committee encouraged for the first time “the equitable participation of women and men in the framework of the Convention,” in its annual resolution on the BWC.

Gender perspectives

Canada, Peru, Ireland, Panama, and Sweden expressed their commitment to advocate for gender perspectives in disarmament. Norway encouraged states parties to develop a common understanding of the ways that gender is relevant in the context of the BWC, which it says will strengthen the Convention. Sweden reminded that the UN Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda notes that the implementation of a gender perspective contributes to more effective disarmament measures.

Norway encouraged states parties to take gender considerations into account in all policy areas. Australia informed that as a major sponsor of the global health security conference held in Sydney in June 2019, gender was elevated as a critical consideration in health security.

Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) welcomed the recent adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2493 “as a crucial follow-on to UN Security Council resolution 1325 [on Women, Peace and Security].”

The joint non-governmental organisation (NGO) statement encouraged delegates to investigate how persisting gender stereotypes pose obstacles to non-proliferation and disarmament efforts.

Gendered impacts

Australia said it was pleased that there is increased interest in understanding the gendered impacts and analysis of biological weapons use. The joint NGO  statement made similar observations. Norway reminded that it hosted, along with UNIDIR, the first-ever side event in a BWC meeting on gender-related impacts of biological weapons at the MXs. Sweden and the European Union (EU) welcomed this.

Peru welcomed UNIDIR’s recent publication Missing links noting that it was relevant for the BWC’s work. It recalled one main finding, which suggests that “a state is better prepared to respond to and to recover from a biological incident when it recognizes that men and women, because of the roles they play in society, are affected differently through various biological attacks, and men and women also respond differently to said attacks.”

Ireland also welcomed the recent UNIDIR publication for “showing how gender roles can have an impact on exposure to biological agents and access to information related to public health crises.” It observed that “understanding of these perspectives can support in the development of effective response and assistance strategies.” Chile welcomed the recent report as “valuable contribution” to explore a subject that so far has not been explored enough.


Norway encouraged diversity in disarmament as it believes this makes it “more effective and leads to better outcomes.” Canada made similar observations. Australia also noted there was a need to keep improving the diversity of the voices in this room and the composition of delegations. Ireland argued that the BWC should ensure the widest possible representation in BWC meetings, including with regard to gender balance. Australia said it was pleased that the issue of gender diversity is attracting greater attention in the BWC, also in terms of participation, and noted that it is encouraging to see many female delegates at this MSP. The EU encouraged the active and equal participation of women. Chile welcomed UNIDIR’s study “Still Behind the Curve” as a crucial tool to further explore participation in the context of the BWC.

Canada welcomed that the 2019 BWC resolution at the UN General Assembly First Committee included a reference to equitable representation of women and men in the framework of the Convention, which it described as “a small but significant step to acknowledge the importance of equality in the implementation of the [BWC].” The EU and the joint NGO statement also welcomed this.

The Republic of Korea noted that the establishment of an advisory forum within the BWC should be based, inter alia, on a balanced gender participation. Australia made similar remarks.

PGA expressed strong support for promoting gender equality in the ratification and implementation of the BWC, and informed that the vast majority of its members active in promoting ratification and implementation of the BWC in the past four years have been women parliamentarians.

[1] The final report wasn’t published at the time of writing but an advance version can be accessed here: https://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954/(httpAssets)/A2B6057BC864E9BFC12584C9002E2BC4/$file/BWC+MSP+2019+final+report+-+advance+version.pdf

[2] These are: Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Peru, Republic of Korea, Ireland, Chile, Panama, European Union, a joint NGO statement, and Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA).