Biological Investigations

VERTIC has a long-standing interest in verification and monitoring issues in the biological area. This debate is as timely and relevant as ever due to technological developments in the life sciences and to the COVID-19 pandemic. VERTIC’s recent work focuses on researching, promoting and strengthening existing international mechanisms that can be used to respond to biological threats.

VERTIC’s work on the UNSGM

The United Nations’ Secretary-General’s Mechanism (UNSGM) is the main international instrument for investigating the alleged use of biological weapons. Since its inception in 1989, the UNSGM has been used to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use, which are also in its mandate, including in Syria in 2013; however, it has never been used to investigate a biological incident.

The UNSGM does not have a standing inspectorate, and instead maintains a roster of qualified experts, expert consultants and analytical laboratories nominated by UN Member States. As such, it is crucial to find effective ways to build and maintain not only capacity, but operational readiness allowing for rapid deployment and incisive, rigorous investigations. VERTIC has carried out a broad research project on operational needs of UNSGM investigations and ways to support the Mechanism in building readiness, drawing on practitioners’ experiences and original research on forensics practices and biological detection technologies.

Report: Tabletop exercise on UNSGM investigations

In 2019, VERTIC conducted a Tabletop Exercise to investigate issues of coordination and cooperation between different stakeholders during a UNSGM investigation of alleged biological weapons use. The exercise saw the participation of practitioners with significant field experience in international investigations, public health incident response, international humanitarian aid during public health crises, and law enforcement investigations of CBRN events.

Report: Pre-deployment orientation for UNSGM missions

In 2024, VERTIC and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) co-hosted a workshop at the UN Headquarters in New York. The workshop’s objective was to identify needs and priorities for pre-deployment orientation for a UNSGM mission, which is meant to brief the team of qualified experts recruited from the roster on the details and goals of the mission and ensure that the experts can operate together as part of a UN mission team. Participants included a select group of expert consultants nominated to the UNSGM roster, representatives from relevant UN offices and departments, and other experts with a high level of practical experience in field investigations.

VERTIC is currently working to organise more exercises of this kind to investigate further issues and build capacity to participate in the UNSGM in regional settings.