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November 2015 E-News

In Paris and Beirut last week, the daily realities of people living in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other places around the world were shared in new locations. “There can never be a hierarchy of suffering when atrocities occur,” wrote WILPF’s Secretary General Madeleine Rees—“they must all be condemned.” However, in condemning suffering we must not turn to more violence and more militarism. In is time for our so-called leaders to choose a different path, she writes. “If we want generations to endure living with armed police on every corner, the military on hand ‘in case’ too many gather together, the constant fear of terrorism; human rights and freedoms that we have taken for granted, curtailed, then we back them if they choose the folly of war. If not, then pause for thought and choose differently.” We can have accountability, justice, and healing, but not through militarism and violence. We need imagination, nonviolence, and diversity. We need fewer weapons, not more. We need a peace conference, not a war council.

In this edition:

Bombing, burning, and killer robots at the CCW

At the 2015 Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which met in Geneva from 12–13 November, states and civil society groups discussed a variety of weapons posing grave humanitarian threats. Autonomous weapons, incendiary weapons, mines other than anti-personnel mines, and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas dominated the meeting’s general debate. Among other things, the meeting decided to hold a new round of discussions on autonomous weapon systems from 11–15 April 2016. The Campaign Stop Killer Robots was active at the meeting and welcomes the new talks, though is disappointed with the lack of ambition and urgency of the mandate. Reaching Critical Will monitored the debate, provided live Tweeting, collected statements and other documents, and provided an analytical report at the closing.

We also delivered a statement on behalf of WILPF on autonomous weapons, armed drones, explosive weapons, and gender perspectives n disarmament. We critiqued the apparent sense of entitlement from some governments to produce, use, and sell weapons as they wish. “The bombs and other explosive weapons killing civilians in armed conflicts around the world should be controlled by international law and moral conscience. Instead, they are sold for profit to those who use them for political gain,” while even more destructive technologies are engineered. “The development of such technology is not inevitable. It is the culture of militarism, emboldened by profits and power, which drives us in that direction. We can and must challenge that culture. To do so, we must also challenge the culture of patriarchy.”

First Committee concludes

The UN General Assembly’s First Committee on disarmament and international security ran from 8 October to 6 November. There were a number of key developments to advance the movement for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, including the adoption of a resolution to establish an open-ended working group (OEWG) to meet in Geneva next year to discuss effective measures for nuclear disarmament. A few days before the vote, the US ambassador said that this initiative “will not succeed”. The 135 states voting in favour of the text proved his assertion incorrect. The resolutions on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, humanitarian pledge for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, and ethical imperatives for a nuclear weapon free world were also adopted, not only by a majority, but by two-thirds of UN member states. It would appear that a great number of states are ready to finally stand up to the nuclear-armed countries and their nuclear allies and take concerted action for nuclear disarmament. The nuclear-armed states probably won’t show up to the OEWG next year. That doesn’t matter. The OEWG will be successful if it draws together committed states to discuss elements for a legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. The nuclear-armed states’ refusal to participate can only strengthen the resolve of committed states. They must not allow themselves to be bullied, because they are standing on the right side of history.

RCW monitored all the meetings, publishing a weekly First Committee Monitor with contributions from many different organisations. We also worked with various civil society coalitions to advocate for strong positions on nuclear weapons, explosive weapons, killer robots, the arms trade, military spending, and much more. Find out more on our website, which also has statements, resolutions, and voting results.

States move to stop bombing in towns and cities

A group of governments, UN agencies, and civil society organisations affiliated with the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) met in Vienna on 21–22 September to discuss how to prevent harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Such harm can be seen from the bombings in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and other ongoing conflicts. At the end of the meeting, many of the participating governments indicated support for developing a political commitment on this issue. Work on the development of this commitment will be carried out over the coming months. This outcome is a great step toward reducing human suffering. INEW has consistently called for a commitment to end the use explosive weapons in populated areas; stronger data-gathering on the use and impact of explosive weapons; and fulfillment of the rights of survivors. At WILPF, we also believe that states need to prevent those that use explosive weapons in populated areas from acquiring arms. Arms exporters must not transfer weapons to countries that are bombing or shelling in villages, towns, cities, or other populated areas.

On 31 October, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer met in Geneva to issue a stark critique of international efforts to protect civilians. Their six-point call included a demand for states to stop the use of “heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.” In addition, in its latest 61-page report on “International humanitarian law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts,” the ICRC included a substantive 6-page section on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It strongly sets out the humanitarian and legal concerns associated with the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, noting, “Based on the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas being witnessed today, there are serious questions regarding how the parties using such weapons are interpreting and applying IHL. Divergent practice of militaries, and contrasting views among experts and in the case law of international criminal tribunals regarding what is or is not legally acceptable, may point to ambiguities in IHL and the need for States to clarify their interpretation of the relevant IHL rules or to develop clearer standards to effectively protect civilians.”

New publications

Women, weapons, and war: a gendered critique of multilateral instruments

This publication considers synergies—and contradictions—related to gender and women in a number of multilateral resolutions, treaties, and commitments on conventional weapons and women's rights and participation. It provides a gendered critique of several multilateral instruments in order to address problems with categorising women as a vulnerable group, undermining women's participation and gender diversity in disarmament, reinforcing violent masculinities, and perpetuating structures of patriarchal militarism. It offers several concrete recommendations for states and other actors to change our framing, implement existing tools holistically, and develop stronger norms, standards, and laws to advance gender diversity, disarmament, and peace.

Trading arms, bombing towns

What do the Arms Trade Treaty, an arms fair, explosive weapons, and the refugee crisis have in common? In this new briefing paper, Reaching Critical Will highlights a straightforward connection between them all and explores the potential effects that stricter prohibitions against arms transfers and development of new commitments against the use of explosive weapons in populated weapons could have on reducing humanitarian harm and the drivers of displacement. It calls on governments to take responsibility for their actions, to prioritise human security over war profiteering, and to seek new, preventative solutions to violence and war.

Upcoming Events

20th Conference of the States Parties of the Chemical Weapons Convention
30 November–4 December 2015 | The Hague, The Netherlands

14th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Convention
30 November–4 December 2015 | Geneva, Switzerland

32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
8–10 December 2015 | Geneva, Switzerland

Featured News

Heads of ICRC and UN call for an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

On 31 October, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer met in Geneva to issue a stark critique of international efforts to protect civilians. Their six-point call included a demand for states to stop the use of “heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.”

Creative resistance to an arms fair

From 15–18 September, the UK hosted one of the world’s largest arms fairs in London, inviting 30,000 arms dealers and buyers to attend. The government invited officials from countries on its own list of human rights abusers and the fair featured all forms of weapons and illegal torture equipment. A coalition of civil society groups, Stop the Arms Fair, held daily blockades and a variety of direct actions to draw attention to and disrupt the fair. Artists from Dismaland put up protest posters across London. Cyclists, including from ICAN UK, blocked the gates.

US loses track of $500 million in weapons sent to Yemen

The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in US military aid given to Yemen. A defense official said there was no hard evidence that the arms or equipment had been looted or confiscated, but acknowledged that the Pentagon had lost track of the items.

US signs $1.29 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia

The US State Department has signed off on the sale of $1.29 billion worth of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, including tens of thousands of bombs that will restock a Saudi arms stockpile depleted by the country's air campaign in Yemen, which has been linked to civilian deaths.

Saudi Arabia tries to block inquiry into Yemen bombing and blockade

Saudi diplomats tried to block a resolution in the Human Rights Council requesting the UN high commissioner for human rights conduct an investigation into the bombing and blockade that has led to so many civilian deaths in Yemen.

Pope speaks out against the arms trade

In his address to Congress, Pope Francis called for an end to the arms trade and condemned those making profits from death and suffering, saying, “Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

Recommended reading

State of crisis: explosive violence in Yemen, Action on Armed Violence, September 2015

Collateral: the human cost of explosive violence in Ukraine, PAX and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, September 2015

International humanitarian law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts, International Committee of the Red Cross, October 2015

Thomas Nash, “The UK Says It Is a Global Humanitarian Leader, So Why Won’t It Condemn Banned Weapons?” Huffington Post, 16 September 2015

Imogene Mathers, “Making a killing: Human cost of the global arms trade,” SciDevNet, 18 September 2015

Imogene Mathers, “Women should be at the heart of peacebuilding talks,” SciDevNet, 22 September 2015

Ray Acheson and Rebecca Johnson, “The UN: are development and peace empty words?” openDemocracy, 24 September 2015

Madeleine Rees, “It Must Not End in War … and It Doesn’t Have to,” Huffington Post, 17 November 2015