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Nuclear ban negotiations get underway at the UN

New York, 27 March 2017

Today at UN Headquarters in New York, the majority of the world's governments together with international organisations and civil society led by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) are gathering to begin negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

This historic opportunity follows decades of activism against the bomb and as well as decades of working to encourage the nuclear-armed states to comply with their legal obligations on nuclear disarmament. It is the culmination of efforts through the "humanitarian initiative" to reexamine and reenergise the discourse on the catastrophic humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons as a motivation for developing necessary legal prohibitions on these weapons of mass destruction. The humanitarian initiative involved several joint intergovernmental statements, three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, two open-ended working groups at the UN, and a Humanitarian Pledge signed by 127 governments to pursue legal measures for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. In October last year, the vast majority of UN member states voted in favour of initiating these negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

The negotiations will run from 27-31 March and 15 June-7 July 2017. States will spend this week putting forward their views on what the treaty should contain. ICAN has put out four briefing papers for governments to consider ahead of negotiations. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), an ICAN partner and member of the campaign’s international steering group, put out a longer discussion paper on the principles and elements of a nuclear weapon ban treaty. It looks concretely at how this instrument could build on existing norms and reinforce existing legal instruments but also strengthen the rejection and stigmatisation of these weapons. Civil society will also provide views this week in working papers, interventions to the conference, and side events.

This treaty is being negotiated without the nuclear-armed states, which have condemned the negotiation of this treaty as destabilising for the status quo. However, as Ray Acheson, Director of WILPF's disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will, explains, this is the point. "The process of banning nuclear weapons is a direct challenge to the patriarchal world order in which a handful of governments and their allies can threaten the world with genocide. An international legal prohibition of nuclear weapons will transform the legal, political, economic, and social landscape to help compel nuclear disarmament."

ICAN campaigners are determined to see states develop a strong treaty that stigmatises and categorically prohibits nuclear weapns in order to facilitate actual change in the policies and practices of nuclear-armed states and states that include nuclear weapons in their security doctrines.

"While it may seem daunting," notes Ms. Acheson, "fulfilling this task is fully within our means. In theory, it is an obvious thing to ban something so abhorrent. We have banned chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions, and we even preemptively banned blinding laser weapons. We did this even without the support of users and producers of some of these weapons. We are motivated by the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the risk of their use, and the deplorable waste of resources currently being sunk into the on-going arms race. We understand the global injustice these weapons represent, and we are morally, ethically, and legally compelled to categorically prohibit these weapons of mass destruction once and for all."

Negotiations will be on at the UN from 27-31 March 2017 and 15 June-7 July 2017. To follow the negotiations, you can subscribe to WILPF’s ban treaty mailing list to receive daily updates from our disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will. You can also follow us on social media with the hashtag #nuclearban and the Twitter accounts @RCW_ and @nuclearban.