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April 2016 E-News

After spending a week in discussions about autonomous weapon systems, it’s hard not to feel a bit apprehensive about our collective future as humanity. The idea of weapons operating without any meaningful human control, of weapons selecting targets on their own and attacking without command from humans, makes it seem like weapons are potentially changing from tools humans use into machines with the capacity and authority to kill humans at their discretion. Except, how does a system of sensors and software exercise discretion? How do algorithms respect human rights, including human dignity? How can international law, which derives its meaning on the basis of being developed by humans for humans, be programmed into a machine? 

These are some of the questions considered last week in Geneva and it’s alarming that some states seem to want to leave open the ability to develop and use such weapons. Yet, as with any other weapon that we confront, as with the militarism and violent masculinities that we challenge, there is always hope for a different version of the future, a different way that we can cooperate as human society to prevent suffering and promote peace and justice. We choose to embrace this hope and continue our work against autonomous weapons, nuclear weapons, the arms trade, and war itself. This edition of the E-News is full of information on our recent and upcoming activities and we look forward to working collectively with you to ensure meaningful engagement in shaping the future we want to share!

In this edition:

Support for prohibiting autonomous weapons grows, but process goes slow

At the end of last week’s UN discussions on lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS), states agreed on recommendations for further, more formal deliberations next year through an open-ended Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). While the establishment of a GGE is a welcome step, the recommendations adopted only call for the GGE to “explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of LAWS.” This is an unambitious mandate that does not reflect either the pace of technological development nor the urgency of ensuring that meaningful human control is retained over weapon systems and the use of force.
 
The need for meaningful human control, as well as the ethical and moral questions around relinquishing control over the use of violent force to machines, has remained at the heart of debate over the past three years. Fourteen statesthousands of scientiststwo UN special rapporteurs, and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are all urging the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument to prevent the development, deployment, and use of autonomous weapon systems. States concerned with the challenges raised by these systems should work with urgency toward negotiations on such an instrument. Read more with our final CCW Report, which will be published tomorrow—subscribe to make sure you receive it. You can find our daily analysis from the meeting on our website, as well as statements, presentations, and documents.

Open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament

The open-ended working group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament will hold its second round of substantive meetings from 2 to 12 May in Geneva. This group, established by a UN General Assembly resolution, has been set up to address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions, and norms that will need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. At the first session in February, the prohibition of nuclear weapons was the dominant proposal discussed, with strong support from diverse states. The May session will be a good opportunity for states and others to submit elements of a nuclear weapon ban treaty for consideration. RCW will provide reporting and analysis from the meetings, as well as primary documentation and other information. The deadline to register for the OEWG is 20 April; information on procedure is on our website.
 
The weekend before the May session, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is hosting a campaigners meeting, bringing together activists from around the world to participate in the OEWG and advocate for a ban on nuclear weapons. of this next round of talks, ICAN has also produced a podcast about the working group and the road ahead. RCW contributed to the podcast and will participate in the campaigners meeting in May as part of ICAN’s delegation.

Challenging militarism

Reaching Critical Will participated in an event hosted by WILPF and partners at the Commission on the Status of Women on 15 March, at which activists, academics, and UN staff discussed ways to effectively implement the recommendations of the Global Study on UN Security Council resolution 1325. RCW’s Director Ray Acheson contributed to the discussion on the Study’s recommendations related to militarism and violent masculinities.
 
Ray also addressed students and faculty at Northeastern University on 22 March, giving a talk on international diplomacy on disarmament as part of the Controversial Issues in International Security and Resilience Studies lecture series. She talked about how disarmament can and should be part of an effective challenge to the systems of militarism, patriarchy, capitalism, and racism that generate and perpetuate inequity, injustice, and insecurity around the world. Giving an overview of ongoing work on explosive weapons, the arms trade, armed drones, autonomous weapons, and nuclear weapons, Ray framed progress on these issues in the broader context of how societies organise and work for peace and justice.
 
Meanwhile, the fortnight of international action against military spending began on 5 April with the release of the latest figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). SIPRI announced that global military spending totaled at $1676 billion in 2015, which represents an increase of about 1% in real terms from 2014, the first increase since 2011. The figures again show that the world continues to waste far too much money on weapons instead of investing in peace. To mark the Global Days, WILPF has been writing about the intersections of militarism, capitalism, racism, and patriarchy. We also hosted a webinar giving a preview of a new report related to preventing gender-based violence through the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty and other arms control instruments. We also participated in the Stockholm Forum on Development and Security organized by SIPRI. RCW was part of the WILPF delegation with members from the Swedish, Nigerian, Cameroon, and DRC sections. In a session organized by WILPF Sweden, the WILPF delegation discussed the implications of small arms and light weapons proliferation in fragile contexts. Stay tuned with the International Peace Bureau for more actions through 18 April!

Ending gun violence

Gun violence, inside and outside of armed conflict, is responsible for half a million deaths every year. In response to this ongoing epidemic, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) is once again hosting the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence from 1 to 8 May 2016. WILPF will participate in the week of action with blogs and a webinar, among other things, so stay tuned for details! The following month, RCW will represent WILPF at the sixth meeting of statesaddressing the implementation of the UN Programme of Action on the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons. We will be hosting an event on our new report looking at how the UNPoA and Arms Trade Treaty can help prevent gender-based violence. We will also monitor and report on the meeting and archive statements and other documents. Subscribe now to receive the Small Arms Monitor daily during the meeting, 6–10 June!

ATT states parties meet for first informal consultation on next conference

On Monday, 4 April 2016, states parties and signatories of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) met in Geneva for the first informal consultation for the second ATT Conference of States Parties (CSP2). The meeting focused on seeking delegates’ views on the draft agenda for CSP2, which is scheduled to be held 22–26 August 2016 in Geneva. Please read RCW's full report online and subscribe to the ATT Monitor to receive updates whenever meetings are held! The next informal meeting will be on 28 April in Geneva.

New publication

Preventing gender-based violence through arms control: tools and guidelines to implement the Arms Trade Treaty and UN Programme of Action
 
This report provides tools and guidelines for effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (UNPoA) provisions related to gender-based violence (GBV). Based on interviews, research, and primary documents, it offers an overview of current practices in export licensing, including applications and documentations, risk assessments, information sharing, monitoring, and transparency. Analysising current practice, the report then offers guidelines for assessing the risk of GBV and suggests resources for export officials on this question. Case studies will follow.

Full report  | Executive summary

Upcoming events

Global Days of Action on Military Spending
5–18 April 2016
 
WILPF’s 101st birthday
28 April 2016
 
Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence
1–8 May 2016
 
Open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament
2–12 May 2016 | Geneva, Switzerland
 
Conference on Disarmament 2016, Part Two
16 May–1 July 2016 | Geneva, Switzerland
 
Sixth Biennial Meeting of States on the UNPoA on small arms
6–10 June 2016 | New York, USA

Featured news

Human rights defender murdered in Honduras
In March, Honduran human rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceras was murdered in her home. She was a Lenca indigenous leader and the coordinator and cofounder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). In 2015, she was awarded the Goldman Foundation Environmental Prize for defending her land and natural resources, notably for her campaign against Agua Zarca dam project. She is one of the 15 human rights defenders who have been killed in Honduras despite being beneficiaries of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) precautionary measures. Berta’s daughter attended CSW and, among other things, addressed WILPF’s event on the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325. Highlighting the connection between militarism and transnational corporations, her testimony showed that when the military and police collude with corporate interests, human rights suffer. A march was held in Berta’s honour during CSW, demanding the immediate end to the persecution of human rights defenders. WILPF has signed an open letter calling for an investigation of her murder, the regulation of investments in natural resources exploitation projects in indigenous territories; respect for provisions related to labour, environmental, and social rights; and an end to impunity for those persecuting human rights defenders.
 
Cambridge, MA divests from nuclear weapons
On 2 April, Mayor Denise Simmons announced that the Cambridge City Council has unanimously decided to divest their city pension fund from nuclear weapons production. This effectively removes US$1 billion from possible investment in the companies most heavily involved in producing and modernising nuclear weapons.
 
Australian and Marshall Islander nuclear test survivors demand a ban on nuclear weapons 
Four Indigenous women from South Australia and the Marshall Islands toured four cities in Australia over four days to speak about how nuclear testing has impacted their lives, and why a treaty banning nuclear weapons is urgently needed. The United Kingdom conducted 12 major nuclear weapons tests in Australia between 1952 and 1963 at Monte Bello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga. The United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, including the 15-megatonne “Castle Bravo” test at Bikini Atoll.
 
Nuclear Security Summit fails to adequately address nuclear weapons
The Summit, hosted in Washington DC in early April, did not address the existence of nuclear weapons as the key nuclear security threat. At a time when the nuclear weapon possessors are investing billions of dollars into modernising their arsenals, some states such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Sweden critiqued this approach. The Summit also failed to address the security of nuclear weapon stockpiles, which are not subject to the IAEA’s monitoring. It is estimated that  83% of nuclear materials worldwide are in military stockpiles.
 
Despite visit to Hiroshima, no new efforts for nuclear disarmament from G7 Foreign Ministers
While recognizing the “immense devastation and human suffering” that the US atomic bombs unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all G7 countries continue to possess nuclear weapons or take part in military agreements predicated on their possession and use – thereby standing ready to inflict such inhumane consequences again.
 
US weapons used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen market bombing
Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes using United States-supplied bombs killed at least 97 civilians, including 25 children, in northwestern Yemen on 15 March 2016. Human Rights Watch conducted on-site investigations on March 28, and found remnants at the market of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which consists of a US-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a JDAM satellite guidance kit, also US-supplied. A team of journalists from ITV, a British news channel, visited the site on March 26, and found remnants of an MK-84 bomb paired with a Paveway laser guidance kit.
 
Dutch MPs call for arms embargo on Saudi Arabia over Yemen bombings
The parliament of the Netherlands on Tuesday passed a landmark resolution calling on the government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, saying it was “guilty of violating international humanitarian law in Yemen”. The resolution was tabled by the Labour Party, a member of the ruling coalition, and follows a historic vote in the EU parliament at the end of February.
 
Canadian government approves export permits for Saudi arms deal
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion quietly approved export permits covering more than 70 per cent of the $15-billion Saudi arms deal for weaponised armoured vehicles. This decision represents the most vital step in determining whether a weapons shipment to a foreign country can proceed or whether it’s “illegal,” as Ottawa calls it. The revelation that Mr. Dion approved the bulk of this deal runs contrary to the Liberal claim that the Saudi export deal was a fait accompli. Many observers had assumed the Conservatives had granted export permits. It also makes the Trudeau government more squarely responsible for a deal with a country increasingly cast as a pariah when it comes to human rights.
 
Blackwater founder engaged in illegal military activities
Writing for The Intercept, Matthew Cole and Jeremy Scahill have been uncovering the activities of defunct mercenary firm Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince. One piece looks at his attempts to broker military services and equipment to foreign governments; another looks at his efforts over two years to manufacture and sell customised armed counterinsurgency aircraft. To this end, the journalists find that Prince exploited front companies and cutouts, hidden corporate ownership, a meeting with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout’s weapons supplier, and at least one civil war.
 
Press conference on nuclear disarmament held at the Italian chamber of deputies
On 26 February, on the third anniversary of Stéphane Hessel’s death, Giovanna Pagani and Antonia Sani of WILPF Italy took part at a press conference at the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Together with other members of the ‘exigent disarmists’, they laid claim to nuclear disarmament as a right of humanity.

Recommended reading

Glenn Greenwald, “Nobody Knows the Identities of the 150 People Killed by U.S. in Somalia, but Most Are Certain They Deserved It,” The Intercept, 8 March 2016
 
Cesar Jaramillo, “Trudeau Could Honour The Saudi Arms Deal—And Not Ship a Single Weapon,” The Huffington Post, 22 March 2016
 
Trevor Timm, “Obama says he’s working towards a nuclear-free world. That’s a lie,” The Guardian, 1 April 2016
 
Papers on human control and autonomous weapons by Article 36, April 2016