June 2016 E-News

With the recent meetings of the 2016 open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament and the biennial meeting of states on small arms, not to mention the most recent gun massacre in the United States, we have been thinking about the connections between weapons and power, and the unconscionable economic and political investment in tools of terror over peace, development, and solidarity. 

“Guns do not need to be fired to be effective,” Michael Ashkenazi of the Bonn International Center for Conversion argues. “The carrying of a gun often symbolises its use, or substitutes for its use far more effectively than does actual use, provided the willingness of the user to actually fire the weapon has been established.” This sounds very similar to the culture of nuclear weapons. A handful of states that possess nuclear weapons act as if the mere possession of these weapons of terror affords them a privileged position of authority, dominance, and security over the rest of us. They purport that nuclear weapons offer the world stability and safety when in reality they leave us all living under the threat of annihilation.
Weapons—small arms or nuclear arms—are about power, not security. They are about control and dominance, not cooperation or equality. They undermine security, cooperation, and equality. They detract from our collective humanity, facilitating divisions and violence. It’s past time for new approaches.

In this edition:


The open-ended working group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament held its second round of substantive meetings from 2 to 12 May in Geneva. The result is undeniably that a treaty banning nuclear weapons has majority support from participating delegations. Debate around prohibiting nuclear weapons effectively drew out the opposition in their support for the continued existence of nuclear weapons as necessary for security. These states, which include nuclear weapons in their security polices and in some cases store US nuclear weapons on their soil—argued against the ban and signaled to the Chair that they did not want it carried forward as a recommendation in his summary to the General Assembly later this year. But the voice of the majority rang clear: a ban is coming.
Find out what happened each day with Reaching Critical Will’s OEWG Reports. Also find documents and statements and background information on our website. Also check out ICAN’s report on the meeting. The next OEWG meetings will be held in August, where states will discuss the Chair’s summary report and recommendations. Stay tuned with us for details!


From 6–10 June, the UN in New York hosted the sixth meeting of states addressing the implementation of the UN Programme of Action on the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons. The Chair and many member states made valuable progress in connecting UNPoA implementation efforts with other important initiatives, including the Sustainable Development Goals, and in recognising related issues such as gender dynamics. But the tyranny of consensus once again prevented the adoption of an outcome document with robust new commitments to take on old challenges, leaving once again serious unfinished business—such as that related to ammunition, new technologies, and manufacturing.
Reaching Critical Will monitored and reported on the meeting and archived statements and documents. Also check out our writing during the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence.


On 27 April, a hospital in Aleppo, Syria was completely destroyed in an airstrike. “A dangerous complacency is developing whereby such attacks are starting to be regarded as the norm,” warned Joanne Liu of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Peter Mauer of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Civilian casualties from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas more broadly have continuously increased over the past five years. According to recent research by Action on Armed Violence, when explosive weapons were used in populated areas in 2015, 92% of those killed or injured were civilians.
These effects have serious implications for human rights. In this regard, WILPF has submitted briefs to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights on the transfer of weapons from FranceSweden, and the United Kingdom to Saudi Arabia and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Yemen. These reports argue that international exports of arms and arms licences can give rise to an extraterritorial responsibility for human rights violations. 


“War is about political economy, power, and gender,” says Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, during this TEDx talk on militarised security and violent masculinities.

In 1945 there was dream, one in which future generations would be spared the scourge of war and there would be peace. Laws have been put in place to regulate our conduct to protect human rights and to bring that peace. We have created systems to oversee their implementation and to hold accountable those who transgress. But the dream still seems out of our reach. In this talk, Madeleine Rees examines how the intersection of political economy, militarism, and the multilateral system have undermined the promise of the UN Charter and human rights, and explores what we must do to reclaim it.


The Swedish arms trade and risk assessments: does a feminist foreign policy make a difference?

This publication is a case study associated with our report Preventing gender-based violence through arms control: tools and guidelines to implement the Arms Trade Treaty and UN Programme of Action. That report looks at how the ATT and UNPoA can be implemented with a view to preventing gender-based violence. This affiliated case study provides a brief overview of the Swedish arms industry and trade focusing on national law and policy, including in relation to preventing gender-based violence. Sweden is a major arms exporter, but prides itself on its “feminist foreign policy.” Thus this paper reflects on Sweden’s arms trade in light of this foreign policy goal and the ATT’s legally-binding provision on preventing gender-based violence.


Explosive weapons and the right to health, education, and adequate housing

Together with WILPF's Human Rights programme, Reaching Critical Will prepared three briefs to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights on the transfer of weapons from FranceSweden, and the United Kingdom to Saudi Arabia and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Yemen. These reports argue that international exports of arms and arms licences can give rise to an extraterritorial responsibility for human rights violations. States must conduct thorough risk assessments prior to granting permits for arms exports, and to refuse arms exports when there is risk that they could be used to violate international human rights law, as has been recognised and mandated by the Arms Trade Treaty.



Father Daniel Berrigan passes away
On 30 April, the Catholic Worker anti-nuclear and anti-war activist Father Daniel Berrigan passed away at the age of 94. Berrigan was a Jesuit priest “whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War.” In May 1968, he and others seized hundreds of draft records and set them on fire with homemade napalm. Father Beriggan was also an antinuclear activist with the Catholic direct action Plowshares movement, breaking into nuclear facilities to bang on warheads with a hammer, among other things.
US military denies airstrike on MSF hospital was a war crime
Seven months after it bombed a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the Pentagon has released a full report concluding that the attack did not amount to a war crime. MSF has repeated its call for an independent inquiry into the attack by the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission.
UK licences £2.8bn of arms sales to Saudi Arabia since beginning of its intervention in Yemen
The figures released in April show that the UK government has issued 122 licences for military exports to Saudi Arabia since it became involved in the civil war in March 2015. The UK has issued export licences worth £6.7bn for arms to Saudi Arabia since 2010.
Canada continues to take flack over Saudi arms deal
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion defended his decision to quietly sign export permits in April covering 70 per cent of the $15-billion deal by Ottawa to sell weaponized combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia, arguing that a major economic backlash from Saudi Arabia would result if Ottawa were to cancel the deal. He also warned that Saudi Arabia wouldn’t “praise Canada” at the UN if the deal were cancelled. Canadian NGO Project Ploughshares as condemned this defence, as has a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. In an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, a huge coalition of human rights, development, and arms control groups, including Amnesty International, Project Ploughshares, and the Canadian Council For International Cooperation, urged him to rescind the “immoral and unethical” decision to approve the export permits.
Arms fair protestors found not guilty
Acquitting eight anti-arms trade protesters who tried to disrupt the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) event at London’s ExCel Centre last September, District Judge Angus Hamilton accepted the defendants’ argument that they had tried to prevent a greater crimes, such as genocide and torture, from occurring by blocking a road to stop tanks and other armoured vehicles from arriving at the exhibition centre. The judge said the evidence of illegal weapons sales had been left unchallenged by the prosecution and that such sales would potentially break arms control laws.
Textron condemned for cluster munition production
Rhode Island-based Textron is one of four private-companies, and the last North American company, to produce cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch recently released a reportcriticising the failure rate of Textron-made cluster bombs and accused Saudi Arabian-led forces in Yemen of using them dangerously close to civilians. Peace groups have protestedat the facility and both of Rhode Island’s senators say they see the need to curtail the use of cluster bombs.


A shameful relationship: UK complicity in Saudi state violence, Campaign Against Arms Trade, April 2016
Spencer Ackerman, “After drones: the indelible mark of America’s remote control warfare,” The Guardian, 21 April 2016
Tom Sauer, “It’s Time to Outlaw Nuclear Weapons,” The National Interest, 18 April 2016
May Jeong, “Death From the Sky: Searching for Ground Truth in the Kunduz Hospital Bombing,” The Intercept, 28 April 2016