The Biological Weapons Convention needs to be ARMED so that nations can
be DISARMED of their Biological and Chemical weapons.
The Novel Coronavirus has sent the entire world in a tizzy. With lockdowns
enforced and businesses and work coming to a halt, it is difficult to feel
normal. Neighbours are becoming suspicious of one another, everyone is concerned
about their neighbour's travel history. All classes are now untouchables. SOCIAL
DISTANCING IS WEAKENING SOCIAL BONDS.
The deadly virus originated from Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province of
Although the earliest case was detected in November, 2019 according to media
reports, Doctors who tried to raise the alarm were reprimanded. Authorities did
not publicly concede there was human-to-human transmission until 21st January,
2020. Cases in China crossed 80,000. Evidence of widespread human-to-human
transmission outside of China has been well established, making chances of
containing the virus much harder.
U.S. President Donald Trump stirred up a controversy by referring to the Virus
as ‘Wuhan Virus' and some referring to it as the Kung Flu
. Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, on the other hand,
suggested that the US army may have brought it into China. In India there are
instances of people from North Eastern states being called out as ‘Corona Virus'
in the National capital.
A Texas lawyer Larry Klayman has filed suit seeking $20-trillion dollars in
damages against the People's Republic of China. Klayman's suit says the COVID-19
coronavirus was created by the Chinese government as a biological weapon and
released by the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, where the
coronavirus outbreak originated.
A question that is on the mind of everyone today is whether the Covid-19 is a
weapon of Biological warfare created to wreak havoc that either leaked to the
outside world or was deliberately released? There is no concrete evidence to
establish such a deliberate action from China and there is nothing, apart from
connecting distant dots to castigate the Chinese Government.
Let us now look into the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The Biological
Weapons Convention, is a Convention on the Prohibition of the Development,
Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and
on their Destruction.
The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), is a multilateral disarmament treaty
banning the development, production and stockpiling of an entire category of
weapons of mass destruction. It was opened for signature on 10 April 1972 and
109 States were signatories to it. The BWC came into force on 26 March 1975.
Over the years, the number of States Parties has grown to 183, with Tanzania
ratifying the same on 14th August, 2019.
Article I of the Convention provides that:
Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to
develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain:
- microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or
method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification
for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;
- weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or
toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.
Interestingly, though the purpose of the Convention as is evident from its
Preamble was the disarmament and prohibition of the development, production and
stockpiling of chemical and bacteriological (biological) weapons and their
elimination, the Convention failed to adopt effective measures also for the
prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons.
This led to insertion of Article IX in the Convention which provides that:
Each State Party to this Convention affirms the recognised objective of
effective prohibition of chemical weapons and, to this end, undertakes to
continue negotiations in good faith with a view to reaching early agreement on
effective measures for the prohibition of their development, production and
stockpiling and for their destruction, and on appropriate measures concerning
equipment and means of delivery specifically designed for the production or use
of chemical agents for weapons purposes.
While India became one of the signatories on 15th January, 1973, China acceded
to the Convention in 1984.
India made a statement at the time of signature which was reiterated on
ratification expressing the need for elimination of chemical weapons also. The
statement is reproduced hereunder:
India has stood for the elimination of both chemical and bacteriological
(biological) weapons. However, in view of the situation that developed in
regard to the discussions concerning biological and chemical weapons, it became
possible to reach agreement at the present moment on a Convention on the
elimination of biological and toxin weapons only. Negotiations would need to be
continued for the elimination of chemical weapons also.
It has been recognised that, both in regard to the Convention on biological and
toxin weapons and in respect of future negotiations concerning chemical weapons,
the Geneva Protocol of 1925 should be safeguarded and the inseparable link
between prohibition of biological and chemical weapons should be
maintained. India's position on the Convention on biological and toxin weapons
has been outlined in the statements of the representative of India before the
Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD) and the First Committee of the
The Government of India would like to reiterate in particular its
understanding that the objective of the Convention is to eliminate biological
and toxin weapons, thereby excluding completely the possibility of their use,
and that the exemption in regard to biological agents or toxins, which would be
permitted for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes would not, in
any way, create a loophole in regard to the production or retention of
biological and toxin weapons.
Also, any assistance which might be furnished under the terms of the Convention
would be of medical or humanitarian nature and in conformity with the Charter of
the United Nations. India's support of the Convention on biological and toxin
weapons is based on these main considerations. It is India's earnest hope that
the Convention will be adhered to by all States, including all the major Powers,
at a very early date.
The Geneva Protocol of 1925 referred to above in India's statement, is
a Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or
Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods
The statement released by China while accession is as under:
Analysing the Statement of China, the declaration is:
- The basic spirit of the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological
Weapons conforms to China's consistent position and is conducive to the
efforts of the world's peace-loving countries and peoples in fighting
against aggression and maintaining world peace. China once was one of the
victims of biological (bacteriological) weapons. China has not produced or
possessed such weapons and will never do so in future. However, the Chinese
Government considers that the Convention has its defects. For instance, it
fails to provide in explicit terms for the prohibition of the use of
biological weapons and the concrete and effective measures for supervision
and verification; it lacks forceful measures of sanctions in the procedure
of complaint against instances of violation of the Convention. It is the
hope of the Chinese Government that these defects maybe made up or corrected
at an appropriate time.
- It is also the hope of the Chinese Government that a convention on
complete prohibition and thorough destruction of chemical weapons will soon
China once was
one of the victims of biological (bacteriological) weapons. China has not
produced or possessed such weapons and will never do so in future.
Apparently, China has restricted it's statement to not producing in future such
weapons, which read with the previous portion of the statement would mean
biological (bacteriological) weapons. In this view of the matter, it appears
that the accession of China is qualified and restricted
. The biological weapons
that China undertakes to never produce or possess in future are limited to
Now, the term bacteriological relates to bacteriology or bacteria. Bacteriology
is in turn the scientific study of bacteria. It is well known that Virus is not
. Besides difference in size, a Virus, unlike a Bacteria, cannot live
without a host. In fact, some viruses attack bacteria. Even the Geneva Protocol
of 1925 deals with Bacteriological methods of warfare. China also recognises
that the Convention does not have much teeth to take effective measures for
violations as is evident from the latter part of the statement. So, China, by
developing or releasing the Covid-19 Virus is neither violating the BWC nor the
With this situation, it would make sense to employ the Strict Liability Doctrine
with the modification devised by the Supreme Court of India. The Strict
Liability Doctrine as propounded in the English case of Rylands Vs. Fletcher
lays down that a person brings, or accumulates, on his land anything which, if
it should escape, may cause damage to his neighbour, he does so at his peril. If
it does escape, and cause damage, he is responsible, however careful he may have
been, and whatever precautions he may have taken to prevent the damage. The
Doctrine is, however, subject to various exceptions, one being Act of God.
However, the doctrine was modified by the Supreme Court of India and christened
as Doctrine of Absolute Liability
which provides that an enterprise which is
engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm is caused to
anyone due to such activity, is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all
who have suffered harm and such liability is not subject to any of the
exceptions which apply to the strict liability rule.
In such a scenario, if China was attempting to develop the Virus at it's Wuhan
Institute of Virology and it was accidently leaked to the outside world or
deliberately released, the Indian Doctrine of Absolute Liability would apply and
can be successfully employed by Klayman in his suit.
Surely, China's hand in creating or proliferating a deadly virus would make a
perfect plot for a sci-fi thriller. But we are too far from making any such
assumption. The above analysis only creates a few more dots to help amateur
fiction writers complete the map.
But what the pandemic has certainly done is to bring the BWC to fore. There is
an urgent need to strengthen the Convention and plug the loopholes existing in
the Convention. The UN must take urgent steps to address these issues. Even
while giving a clean chit to China, there is a need to ensure that there is a
complete disarmament of all Biological and Chemical weapons, even if defensive.