Tanzania has finally ratified the UN Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, despite being among the first to sign it when it was introduced in 1972.
Tanzanian legislator Jasson Rweikiza, who led a three-year lobbying campaign for the country’s official endorsement of the treaty, confirmed this week that the long-delayed ratification was sealed in London on August 14, making the country the 183rd out of 197 eligible states that are now fully party to the convention.
The convention, also known as the BWC, is an internationally co-ordinated effort to prohibit the wanton development, production, and stockpiling of toxic weapons in the midst of ongoing terrorism threats around the world.
Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi have already ratified it, while South Sudan is among the few countries that have neither signed nor ratified the treaty.
"This step represents the culmination of a number of years of efforts by a diverse range of stakeholders in Tanzania. I am now looking forward to progressing implementation of the convention locally in the coming months," Mr Rweikiza said on the ratification.
The BWC convention is the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the uncontrolled production of an entire category of weapons.
The scope of its prohibition covers all microbial and other biological agents or toxins and their means of delivery, but with exceptions for medical and defensive purposes in small quantities. Permitted purposes under the convention are defined as 'prophylactic and protective', among others. "Such weapons may not be retained in quantities that have no justification or which are inconsistent with the permitted purposes," the treaty reads.
However, some countries that have yet to ratify the convention have noted that the absence of any formal verification regime to monitor compliance somewhat limits its effectiveness.
The BWC convention was first opened for signing in, 1972, and was then closed upon coming into force in 1975 with 22 initial signatory states including Tanzania and Rwanda already on board. After that, states that hadn’t yet signed the treaty could only accede to it.
These included Kenya and Uganda, which acceded on January 7, 1976 and May 12, 1992 respectively. Rwanda and Burundi, which like Tanzania were among the first signatories, ratified it in May 1975 and October 2011 respectively.
Apart from South Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Comoros are eligible states from Eastern African region that have not yet either signed or ratified the convention so far include Some have reportedly said they are still variously "waiting for further information, assistance, or have other priorities." Egypt, Israel and perhaps most significantly Syria are also among abstainers so far.
The terrorism threat in East Africa has become particularly evident through the rise of militant groups like the Somalia-based Al Shabaab whose tentacles have crossed borders into Kenya and Uganda, and also been felt in Tanzania.
Last year Tanzania’s Defence Minister Hussein Mwinyi said in parliament that the convention was considered important at the time.