30 APRIL 1997


Entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention

I warmly welcome the entry into force on 29 April of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This historic moment fulfils a long-standing objective of Australia's foreign policy.

The Convention is the first comprehensively verifiable multilateral treaty that bans an entire class of weapons. It prohibits all aspects of chemical weapon development - production, acquisition, possession, transfer and use - and provides for the destruction of existing stocks and production facilities.

Australia has taken a close interest in the CWC because this treaty directly affects our national security. The Convention promises the abolition for all time of a weapon of mass destruction which has killed tens of thousands of people this century, including many Australians who were the victims of these weapons in World War I. The CWC also represents the best means of preventing the spread of chemical weapons to our region.

The speed with which the Convention has gained support is unprecedented in international non-proliferation and disarmament agreements: 165 countries have signed it and 87 have ratified since the Convention was opened for signature in 1993. I am particularly pleased that a wave of countries, including China and the Republic of Korea, have ratified since the United States did so on 25 April. Importantly, the states which have ratified include all the major global economies except Russia, and I am glad to note that President Yeltsin has submitted the treaty to the Russian Parliament. Australia will continue to urge Russia to ratify the Convention as soon as possible.

Australia has played a significant role in helping to build this strong body of international support for the Convention, both during the negotiating phase and subsequently. Australia ratified the treaty in May 1994 - the sixth country to do so - and has actively encouraged many countries, particularly in our region, to join the treaty regime. Australia has provided technical advice and assistance to countries in South East Asia and the South Pacific on the domestic preparations required for treaty implementation.

The CWC will be implemented internationally by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based in The Hague. The CWC First Conference of States Parties begins on 6 May and will launch the new treaty Organisation. The Australian delegation to the Conference will be working actively to ensure the treaty is implemented fully and effectively.

For further information; DFAT - Tony Melville/Kirk Coningham 06 261 1555