September 2016 E-News
A lot has happened in the last month. Yeminis and Syrians continue to die from airstrikes in populated areas, with bombs hitting hospitals and homes. Companies in the UK and the US in particular continue to rake in profits from the bombing of Yemen in particular, with the UK government even being bumped up to the position of second largest arms dealer in the world. The gathering of Arms Trade Treaty states parties proved totally inadequate to address these challenges.
But this is not the end of the story. War and weapons are continuing to take concerted, effective hits. States are overwhelming supporting the start of negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons in 2017. Arms transfers from the UK and the US to Saudi Arabia are being challenged by civil society and parliamentarians. There is mounting opposition to US military bases from Okinawa, Japan to Alice Springs, Australia. Colombia and the FARC signed a peace and disarmament agreement.
These are movements forward we must embrace. Peace and justice will grow from the ashes of violence if we continue to oppose militarism, patriarchy, racism, and economic injustice and develop alternatives that put people and peace first.
Last month in Geneva, the open-ended working group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament recommended that the General Assembly commence negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, leading to their elimination. Throughout the OEWG, at least 107 states indicated their support for this process. This is an historic moment, the “most significant contribution to nuclear disarmament in two decades,” as Mexico said after the vote in Geneva. For 71 years the world has experienced the injustice and insecurity that nuclear weapons represent. But now, the collective opposition to nuclear weapons has found a united voice and a pathway to action.
It is the expectation of the majority of governments and civil society groups that the 2016 session of the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security will consider and adopt a resolution to begin negotiations of a new international legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. Follow along by subscribing to our First Committee Monitor!
The battle is far from over—we anticipate that some states will continue to try to thwart progress at this year’s First Committee, and that achieving the elimination of nuclear weapons will take more than a prohibition treaty on its own. The US government has already made its thoughts clear, “rejecting” the OEWG recommendation and calling on all states “to reject unrealistic efforts to ban nuclear weapons.” Of course, if banning nuclear weapons is so unrealistic, the US should have nothing to fear. But the US and the other nuclear-armed states and some of their allies that purport to receive protective value from nuclear weapons are actively opposing ban treaty efforts, signaling their awareness of the practical, normative, legal, political, economic, and social effects such a treaty will have on their continued support for nuclear weapons.
Activists and governments around the world are increasingly unified in their support for banning nuclear weapons. We have the momentum and the moral authority to succeed. This year’s International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weaponson 26 September is a great opportunity to solidify this support. At the United Nations commemoration of the International Day, Susan Southard, author of Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, will deliver a statement on behalf of ICAN calling for action—tune in to UN Web TV that day to watch!
At the second Conference of States Parties (CSP2) of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) last month, states failed to address violations of the Treaty. Most civil society groups participating in the meeting, including WILPF, focused on the case of arms transfers from 17 states parties and two signatories to Saudi Arabia, despite its repeated breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Yemen. But states parties refused to address this issue. They did adopt parameters for a Voluntary Trust Fund, as well as working groups on universality, reporting, and implementation. They endorsed and recommended the use of reporting templates (though did not resolve to make them public by obligation). They appointed a permanent head of the Secretariat, adopted the budget for 2017, decided on the dates for CSP3 (11–15 September 2017), and endorsed Finland as president for CSP3 and Australia, Bulgaria, Guatemala, and Sierra Leone as vice-presidents. These are important decisions that will help facilitate the work of the ATT. But amidst these administrative matters, there was not a single statement from governments regarding current practice and policy in terms of implementing the Treaty.
To find out more, read our final analysis of CSP2, as well as our other daily reports. Also find statements and documents on our website. WILPF will continue to challenge the international arms trade, calling for transparency and end to violations of the Treaty and other international and domestic law. We will also continue our research on the links between arms transfers and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as well as gender-based violence.
At a WILPF side event to the thirty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council on “Addressing the impact of Arms Trade on Women’s Rights,” participants examined the concrete impact of arms trade on human rights in the conflict in Yemen. Rasha Jarhum, Member of The Yemeni Women Pact for Peace and Security, shared an overview of the arms trade as well as the participation of women in society before and after the beginning of the conflict. R. Jarhum also gave space to survivor testimonies. Mia Gandenberger, Programme Manager of Reaching Critical Will, discussed how human rights bodies have addressed the need to regulate arms transfers, i.e. in the CEDAW Committee or the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR). Following a WILPF shadow report to CESCR the committee had recommended that the United Kingdom refuse or suspend licenses for arms exports "when there is a risk that arms could be used to violate human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights". Sarah Boukhary, Programme Associate of the WILPF Crisis Response Programme, outlined how WILPF aims to strengthen women’s capacity and access to engage effectively in peace processes, highlighting WILFP’s work in Yemen with partner organisations. All speakers called for the end of arms transfers to all participating actors in the conflict.
Following the side event, WILPF also delivered a statement to the Human Rights Council on Yemen on 15 September 2016, raising similar points and urging the Saudi-led coalition to stop using cluster munitions and all parties to the conflict to stop using explosive weapons in populated areas. We also called on all states to:
- heed the call of the High Commissioner “to refrain from encouraging or arming parties to the conflict ” and stop all arms transfers or license agreements with all warring parties;
- condemn the targeting of hospitals, schools, markets, and houses by explosive weapons and to support the development of an international commitment to prevent such practices in the future;
- support interventions of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants, including child combatants;
- focus all efforts on finding a peaceful solution to the conflict; and
- ensure meaningful participation of Yemeni women in the peace process as well as a gender-sensitive humanitarian aid to civilians suffering in Yemen.
From 31 August to 2 September, high contracting parties of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)—a treaty that restricts or prohibits weapons that have been deemed “excessively injurious” or to have indiscriminate effects—met in Geneva to prepare for the treaty’s Fifth Review Conference, which will be held in December. The highlight of the Preparatory Committee was the widespread support for a recommendation to the Review Conference to set up a group of government experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems. Participants also engaged in significant discussions about improvised explosive devices, anti-vehicle mines, and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In addition, some states and representatives of civil society questioned the efficacy of the CCW’s Protocol III on incendiary weapons.
Read more with Reaching Critical Will’s report on the PrepCom.
At the the 13th international forum of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) in Brazil, WILPF’s PeaceWomen programme launched our #MoveTheMoney campaign. This campaign focuses on the difference between military spending and financing for women, peace and security. “You get what you pay for: trillions on war and pennies for peace will only lead to violence. It is time to invest in gender equality and social justice policies and movements for peace.”
At the end of September, peacemakers and anti-war activists from across Australia will be gathering near the red centre of the country to demand the government close the secretive Pine Gap military base. Pine Gap is a “joint defence facility” of the US and Australian governments, located less than 20km from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory on the traditional land of the Arrernte people. It is used to conduct mass surveillance—including as part of the Five Eyes intelligence network; provide data that enables the targeting of US drone strikes; support communications of the US armed forces; and help detect missile launches and target US nuclear weapons.
WILPF members from Australia, as well as Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will, will be participating in the gathering, including one organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) that involves dismantling a model of a US nuclear weapon. Ray will also speak at the Independent and Peace Australia Network (IPAN) National Conference on 1 October conference about Australia’s role in global disarmament and arms control. She will examine how the US-Australia alliance reflects internationally on disarmament issues, including nuclear weapons, the arms trade, and armed drones.
Find out more with WILPF and Close Pine Gap!
The 2016 Humanitarian Disarmament Forum will be held 15–16 October at Pace University in New York City. Each year for the past four years, civil society organisations working across a range of humanitarian disarmament issues have gathered on the margins of the UN General Assembly First Committee to communicate and collaborate and learn from one another. The organisers for this year’s forum are Handicap International, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and Mines Action Canada. Their focus for this edition of the forum is on our community and how to be even more effective than we already are. Since 2016 is an Olympic year, this year's theme is Higher, Faster, Stronger. We are aiming for higher standards, faster progress, and stronger campaigns. Registration for the forum is open until 30 September.
UN General Assembly general debate
20–30 September 2016, New York
International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
26 September 2016
IPAN National Conference
1 October 2016, Alice Springs, Australia
Keep Space for Peace Week
1–8 October 2016
UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security
3 October–2 November 2016, New York
Humanitarian Disarmament Forum 2016
15–16 October 2016, New York
Group of Governmental Experts on the Operation and Further Development of the United Nations Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures
7–11 November 2016, Geneva
Dr. Bill Williams, peace and antinuclear activist, passes away
Bill was a co-founder of ICAN and had served as the chair of the campaign in Australia over the past few years. For decades, he spoke out passionately against nuclear weapons, nuclear power and uranium mining. He cared deeply for those in Australia, the Pacific and elsewhere in the world who have suffered from these horrific weapons and toxic industries. We will all miss Bill enormously. He was a man of great vision, passion and compassion. His belief in a world free of nuclear weapons and untethered from the nuclear fuel chain fired our work. His energy, intelligence, humanity and humour inspired all his friends, colleagues and fellow travellers.
DPRK conducts a fifth nuclear weapon test
On 9 September, the DPRK conducted its most powerful nuclear test explosion to date, with an estimated yield of 10 kilotonnes, triggering a magnitude 5.3 earthquake. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) strongly condemned this reckless and destabilizing act, which runs counter to the growing tide of international support for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
Textron stops producing cluster munitions
The last remaining US manufacturer of cluster munitions has stopped producing them, following pressure from international civil society groups that documented their use by the Saudi-led coalition during airstrikes in Yemen.
Okinawa mayors demand closure of US military bases
The mayors of 26 towns and villages hosting US bases in Okinawa plan to formally present new demands calling for Tokyo to reduce the prefecture’s burden in supporting American military personnel and fundamentally revise the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
UK government becomes second biggest arms dealer in the world
Among the statistics revealed, since 2010 Britain has also sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House "Freedom in the world" report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list.
British MPs try to water down report on UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia
MPs on Britain’s committee on arms export controls are divided over plans that would recommend suspending UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia over alleged breaches of international law in Yemen. A concerted attempt has been mounted to water down a draft report that said it seemed inevitable that the alleged breaches by the Saudi-led coalition had involved arms supplied by the UK, and that this would mean Britain was in violation of its legal obligations.
Obama administration offered $115 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia
According to a new report, offers over eight years totalled more than any previous administration and were intended to replenish Saudi Arabia’s arsenal after its war in Yemen.
Group calls for an end to arms company advertising at Canberra airport
No Airport Arms Ads launched its campaign last month, calling for the removal of advertisements promoting arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon from the halls of the airport in Canberra, Australia.
FARC and Colombian government sign a peace deal
After 52 years of war, government and guerrillas agreed last month on a disarmament and justice plan that Colombian voters will be asked to ratify in a plebiscite.
Sarah A. Topol, “Attack of the killer robots,” BuzzFeed, 27 August 2016
Michael S. Schmidt, “Air Force, Running Low on Drone Pilots, Turns to Contractors in Terror Fight,” The New York Times, 5 September 2016
Madeleine Rees, “In Syria and Bosnia, women are quietly changing the world,” The Guardian, 6 September 2016
Ryan Gallagher, “Inside Menwith Hill,” The Intercept, 6 September 2016
Kate Allen, “How many Yemenis need to die before we stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia?” The Guardian, 9 September 2016