United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 73. Biological Weapons
The UK Military Manual (1958) states: “The use of bacteriological methods of warfare is forbidden.” A footnote explains: “The prohibition … in the [1925 Geneva] Gas Protocol was declaratory of the view generally accepted by the civilised world.” It adds:
As Japan was not a party to the Protocol, the Russian military tribunal at Khabarovsk … would therefore seem to have assumed that the prohibition of bacteriological warfare derived from the customary law of war prevailing among civilised nations and it was only declaratory of such customary law.
The manual also provides: “In addition to the ‘grave breaches’ of the 1949 [Geneva] Conventions, … the following are examples of punishable violations of the laws of war, or war crimes: … using bacteriological methods of warfare.”
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981) states: “The following are prohibited in international
armed conflict: … f. bacteriological weapons.”
(emphasis in original)
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states:
6.5. The development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, retention and use of bacteriological, biological and toxin weapons are prohibited.
6.5.1. This does not interfere with the right of states to participate in the exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the use of bacteriological and biological agents and toxins for peaceful purposes such as the prevention of disease.
6.5.2. The term “toxin” refers to agents that are chemical poisons of types that can be produced naturally by biological processes or synthesized artificially. The terms “bacteriological” and “biological” are not defined in the relevant treaties.
In its chapter on internal armed conflict, the manual prohibits the use of bacteriological weapons.
In its chapter on enforcement of the law of armed conflict, the manual refers to “using bacteriological methods of warfare” as a war crime “traditionally recognized by the customary law of armed conflict”.
The UK Biological Weapons Act (1974) provides:
No person shall develop, produce, stockpile, acquire or retain … any biological agent or toxin … in a quantity not justified for peaceful purposes … any weapon, equipment or means of delivery designed to use biological agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.
At the CDDH, the United Kingdom voted against the Philippine amendment (see supra) because:
A significant number of the States party to the Geneva [Gas] Protocol of 1925 had entered a reservation thereto; for those States the Protocol contained no absolute prohibition on the use of the weapons mentioned in it, but rather a prohibition on the first use only. Nor was it convincing to state that the Geneva [Gas] Protocol of 1925 represented no more than the existing customary law of war; ever since the adoption of resolution XXVIII by the XXth International Conference of the Red Cross (Vienna 1965), States had been urged in United Nations resolutions to accede to that Protocol in accordance with its express terms. Such a situation was entirely inconsistent with the contention made in debate that the Geneva [Gas] Protocol of 1925 reflected existing customary international law. That contention could not be supported.
In the preliminary stages of the First Review Conference of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1980, the United Kingdom stated:
The United Kingdom has never possessed and has not acquired microbial or other biological agents and toxins in quantities which could be employed for weapons purposes. The United Kingdom maintains only small quantities of such agents and toxins for peaceful purposes, primarily prophylaxis and research … No system designed to apply these agents for hostile purposes exists, nor are being developed.
At the First Review Conference of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1980, the United Kingdom stated:
Since the United Kingdom has never possessed any of the agents proscribed by the [1972 Biological Weapons Convention] in quantities other than those explicitly permitted, related action had been confined to the passing of domestic legislation [i.e. the Biological Weapons Act] in compliance with the provisions of article IV. In addition, the United Kingdom had, over the period since the Convention’s entry into force, concluded a series of bilateral and multilateral agreements on public health and medical research which, inter alia
, supported the provisions of article X.
In 1983, in reply to a question in the House of Lords on the subject of the use of chemical weapons in South-East Asia, the UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated: “The use of toxins in South-East Asia would represent a breach of the 1972 Convention banning biological and toxin weapons.”
In 1990, during a debate in the UN Security Council on a peaceful and just post-Cold War world, the United Kingdom recalled that, under paragraph 12 of Resolution 670 (1990), individuals were held responsible for grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. It added: “We should also hold personally responsible those involved in violations of the laws of armed conflict, including the prohibition against initiating the use of … biological weapons contrary to the Geneva [Gas] Protocol of 1925, to which Iraq is a party.”
In 1991, during a debate in the House of Commons on the Gulf conflict, the UK Prime Minister stated: “Contrary to international agreements, Iraq has produced and threatened to use both chemical and biological weapons, the use of which would be wholly contrary to international agreements.”
In 1991, in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on operations in the Gulf War, the United Kingdom stated: “The Iraqi Ambassador [to the United Kingdom] was also reminded of Iraq’s obligations under the 1925 Geneva [Gas] Protocol in respect of … biological weapons. The United Kingdom would take the severest view of any use of these weapons by Iraq.”
In 1991, during a debate in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, the United Kingdom explained that it intended to withdraw its reservation to the 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol, in which it had reserved the right to retaliate with biological weapons.
In 1991, during a debate in the UN Security Council on the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, the United Kingdom, with regard to UN Security Council Resolution 687 (1991), stated:
The resolution contains tough provisions for the destruction of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons … It is surely right to do so. For Iraq alone in the region has not only developed many of these weapons, it has actually used them both against a neighbouring State and against its own population, and it has made the threat of their use part of the daily discourse of its diplomacy as it has attempted to bully and coerce its neighbours.
At the Fourth Review Conference of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1996, the United Kingdom stated that it was of the utmost importance
to send out a strong message. That the 1972 Convention remains the unequivocal and comprehensive ban on Biological Weapons. But that recent history has proved that a ban alone is not enough. That the overwhelming majority of States Parties believe that strengthening the Convention is both necessary and possible; and that we are all determined to work to achieve this as quickly as possible.
In 1998, in response to a question in the House of Commons on the United Kingdom’s position on biological weapons at a meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, the UK Prime Minister stated:
The UK delegation supported proposals to include within the jurisdiction of the ICC war crimes under existing customary international law. For that reason, the delegation supported the inclusion of the use of methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering; these included bacteriological (biological) agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.
According to the Report on UK Practice, representatives of the United Kingdom have repeatedly expressed condemnation of the use of biological weapons.
In 2003, in a reply to a written question in the House of Commons, the UK Minister of State for the Home Office wrote:
The Government are fully committed to meeting our obligations under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which was implemented under the Biological Weapons Act 1974. More recently, we took new powers to deal with noxious substances. Sections 54 and 55 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (as amended in Section 120 of the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001) make it an offence to provide, receive or invite another to receive instruction or training in the making or use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. In addition, section 113 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 makes it an offence to use any noxious substance or thing with the intention of causing serious harm to public or property, and section 114 creates an offence of hoaxing using alleged noxious substances. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has taken forward initiatives – including the Green Paper laid before the House in April 2002 – intended to strengthen international efforts, and mechanisms, to counter proliferation.
In 2003, in a reply to a written question in the House of Commons, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote:
The Government’s policy towards the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) is to work towards their universal adoption and universal compliance with their obligations.
The United Kingdom abandoned its offensive chemical and biological weapons programmes in the 1950s. Subsequently we have played a leading role in the negotiations both of the BWC of 1975, for which we are a depositary government, and the CWC which entered into force in 1997. We are fully compliant with our obligations under both Conventions and continue to press for their full and effective implementation. To this end, both nationally and with our EU partners, we have conducted a series of demarches world-wide, with particular attention to regions of tension such as the Middle East.
The United Kingdom was instrumental in securing a successful outcome to the BWC Review Conference in November 2002, which saw agreement on a three year work programme of practical measures to deal with the BW threat. At the forthcoming CWC Review Conference (28 April–-9 May 2003) the UK will be presenting a number of important technical and scientific papers. The strength of our political support and commitment to both Conventions, as well as the technical expertise we contribute, are second to none.
In 2003, in a reply to a written question in the House of Commons, the UK Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Hoon, stated:
Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to withdraw British troops from military action where an ally uses (a) biological and (b) chemical weapons.
: Our NATO allies are State Parties to both the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and have renounced the use of such weapons.
In 2003, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Prime Minister replied to a question by a Member:
Mr. Duncan Smith: The House will have seen pictures confirming that Iraqi troops have been issued with chemical weapons protection equipment and will have read reports that they have access to chemical and biological weapons. Is it not essential that we make it clear to every Iraqi commander that the use of such weapons is a war crime, that obeying orders is no defence and that anyone guilty of such crimes will be prosecuted after the war?
The Prime Minister:
Yes, that is important. We are making it clear to Iraqi commanders in the field that if they use chemical or biological weapons, they will be deservedly prosecuted with the utmost severity. There are increasing reports about the distribution of equipment to Iraqi forces. It is difficult to be sure of their accuracy, but we have obviously been prepared for such an eventuality from the outset.