Academic lawyers and biologists are attempting to plug a yawning gap in international conventions outlawing chemical and biological weapons.
They want to open global discussions on a new convention that would indisputably extend the existing bans on development, possession and use of chemical and biological weapons.
A draft convention drawn up by the Harvard Sussex Programme, which monitors information on chemical and biological weapons (CBWs), would outlaw the weaponisation of disease or poison and the hostile exploitation of biotechnology by terrorists or other individuals who are currently able to escape prosecution under international law.
An editorial in the latest CBW Conventions Bulletin, published by the HSP, says: "The norm against chemical and biological weapons would be strengthened, deterrence of potential offenders would be enhanced, and international cooperation in suppressing the prohibited activities would be facilitated."
States signing up to the convention would have to agree to take action against any individuals in their territory, irrespective of nationality or where the offence has been committed, either by prosecution or extradition.
James Crawford, professor of international law at the University of Cambridge, who is involved in drafting the convention, said:
"The technical task was fitting the new text into the existing framework of the BWC and the CWC I but at the same time providing a deterrent to terrorists, or indeed government officials, who acquire, threaten or even use these weapons illicitly."
The CBW Conventions Bulletin is available from Barbara Ring, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, 7 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, Mass, 02138, US.