Executive Secretary of the CTBTO
Lassina Zerbo is the Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, a position which he assumed on 1 August 2013. He previously served as Director of the organization’s International Data Centre (IDC). He is a national of Burkina Faso. Zerbo has been instrumental in cementing the CTBTO’s position as the world’s centre of excellence for nuclear test-ban verification, as well as in driving forward efforts towards the entry into force and universalization of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). In November 2016, the Member States of the highest decision-making body of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission re-appointed Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo to a further four year term of office until 31 July 2021.
Soon after assuming his current post, Zerbo initiated the establishment of the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM), comprising internationally recognized personalities and experts to promote the Treaty’s entry into force and to reinvigorate international endeavours to achieve this goal. In 2016, he announced the creation of the CTBTO Youth Group to also engage the younger generation in advancing the aims of the Treaty. Zerbo secured China’s resumed technical cooperation with the CTBTO, signalling a new phase of cooperation. The success of the Integrated Field Exercise 2014 in Jordan, a simulated on-site inspection, reflected the CTBTO’s capabilities under his leadership.
Zerbo was chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to receive its 2018 Award for Science Diplomacy in recognition of his commitment to eliminating nuclear testing. Announcing the award, the AAAS said Zerbo was selected for “using his scientific expertise and leadership ability to tackle difficult challenges and promote world peace.” In recognition of his work at the CTBTO and in the disarmament and nuclear proliferation field in general, Zerbo was awarded the 2013 “Arms Control Person of the Year” by the Arms Control Association, USA. In 2015 he became a Commander of the National Order of Burkina Faso for his work towards the preservation of peace and international security. He was also decorated with the Grand Cross in the Chilean Order of Bernardo O’Higgins in June 2016. In February 2017, Zerbo was awarded the Presidential Medal on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Republic of Kazakhstan for his leadership in enhancing nuclear non-proliferation efforts. In August 2017, Zerbo received Special Honorary Citizenship of the City of Hiroshima for his initiatives to “preserve, disseminate and convey” the reality of atomic bombings, and his leadership efforts—including through the activities of the GEM—to promote the message of Hiroshima and the hibakusha.
During a professional career spanning nearly 25 years, Zerbo has developed expertise ranging from scientific and technical competencies to results-based management and multilateral diplomacy.
Zerbo served as co-chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Nuclear Security (2012-2014), which was established to stimulate discussion among high-level policymakers and leaders in both the private and public sectors on the broader issue of nuclear security, including disarmament and non-proliferation. Further, he is a member of think tanks on energy, science, technology and development, and peace and security for Africa.
As Director of the CTBTO’s International Data Centre (IDC) from 2004 to 2013, he was the focal point on CTBT issues related to the nuclear tests conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and oversaw the organisation’s activities related to the tests in 2016 and 2017 as Executive Secretary. Zerbo led the CTBT Science and Technology conferences in 2011 and 2013 and managed the successful deployment of the CTBT virtual Data Exploitation Centre (vDEC), which provides an innovative framework for interacting with the wider scientific community. This interaction helps ensure that the CTBTO retains its position at the cutting edge of verification-related science and technology.
In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Zerbo spearheaded technical discussions regarding the agreement on CTBTO technical assistance to tsunami warning centres. He served as the custodian of all technically sensitive information of the organization, which was called on following the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan in March 2011. He remains responsible for authorizing the release of this information to Member States and their institutions in compliance with the Treaty’s requirements.
Zerbo obtained a PhD in Geophysics from the Université de Paris XI, France, in 1993. His international career started with a position as research geophysicist with BHP Minerals International. He subsequently worked as project geophysicist for the company’s Africa programmes, based in Virginia, USA, and provided technical expertise to all its airborne electromagnetics projects. Upon joining Anglo American Exploration in 1995, Zerbo assumed the role of Divisional Principal Geophysicist for Africa while supervising research and development projects for most of the company’s projects in Africa, Asia and Australia. In this role, he managed all Africa operations through projects across the continent.
Zerbo is married and has three daughters.