Biological Weapons

The Geneva Protocol 1925

The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (the Geneva Protocol 1925) was adopted in reaction to the horrific consequences of the extensive use of gas during the First World War (1914-18). The Protocol, which entered into force in 1928, bans the use of ‘asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices', and of ‘bacteriological methods of warfare' by a state party to the Protocol against any country which is also a party to the Protocol. Australia acceded to the Geneva Protocol in 1930.

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)

The BWC opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force three years later. It was the first major multilateral treaty to outlaw an entire class of weapons, prohibiting parties developing, producing, stockpiling or otherwise acquiring or retaining biological weapons and their means of delivery.

The BWC does not explicitly ban the use of biological weapons, which are already banned by the Geneva Protocol, but the prohibitions it contains and the requirement that states parties destroy any stockpiles accumulated before accession, amount to an effective ban on use. The BWC also prohibits states parties from assisting other countries to acquire biological weapons, directly or indirectly. Further, it requires states parties to facilitate technical and scientific cooperation in the use of biotechnology for peaceful purposes.  The last review conference was held in Geneva in December 2011.

Australia signed the BWC on the day that it was opened for signature, 10 April 1972, and ratified it in 1977. As of July 2012, there were 165 states party to the BWC. A further 12 states have signed, but not ratified, the treaty.