August 2017 E-News
On 7 July, we banned the bomb! It still feels remarkable to be able to say that, finally. After seventy years of activism and several recent years of concerted intergovernmental efforts, we have a legally binding instrument that categorically prohibits nuclear weapons. This is a historic occasion and worthy of celebration!
In her book Hope in the Dark, author and activist Rebecca Solnit writes about “the slow incremental victories that begin in the imagination and change the rules.” Seeing them, she notes, “requires being able to recognize the shades of gray between black and white or maybe to see the world in full color.” The world is a mess and we have not yet figured out how to change everything all at once. Absolute “victory,” whatever that may be, continues to elude us. But we need to celebrate the ground we have taken. As Solnit argues, “being able to celebrate or at least recognize milestones and victories and keep working is what the times require of us.”
Of course, much more work is ahead. As we always knew, this treaty has not magically eliminated nuclear weapons over night. But as atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow said in her remarkable closing statement to the negotiating conference on 7 July, “This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.” This treaty was conceived of as a tool that could help change the politics and economics of nuclear weapons as a means of facilitating disarmament. It provides a solid foundation to change policies and practices, as well as to shift the thinking and discourse on nuclear weapons even further.
Reaching this agreement is an amazing feat of collective actionby people who came together to do something that had not been tried before. Like anything created by people, it has its imperfections. But it’s a good start on the road to abolition, and it gives a glimpse of what is possible in this world. That, all on its own, has meaning.
In this edition:
- Nuclear weapons are banned!
- Women's March to Ban the Bomb!
- Queer communities speak out against militarism
- High Court decision allows UK government to keep selling arms to Saudi Arabia
- WILPF illustrates role of civil society in arms control during training course for diplomats
- Civil society actors link up to address threat of armed drones
- Upcoming events
- Featured news
- Recommended reading
On 7 July 2017, 122 states at the United Nations voted in favour of a legally binding instrument banning nuclear weapons. This treaty makes the possession of these horrific weapons of mass destruction illegal, along with other related activities such as testing, using, developing, or assisting with nuclear weapons (which includes financing or planning to use the weapons, among other things). The treaty also includes provisions for assisting victims of nuclear weapons use and testing, and environmental remediation. It is the first treaty to recognise the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on indigenous people and on women.
Only one country voted against the treaty today: the Netherlands, which hosts US nuclear weapons on its soil. The Netherlands was the only nuclear weapon-supporting country to participate in the negotiations.
Reaching Critical Will provided daily analysis from the negotiations and has posted all relevant documents online. Check out some great videos from the conference on ICAN’s Vimeo page and Reaching Critical Will’s Facebook page. You can also read RCW and ICAN’s writings at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and view photos on ICAN’s Flickr page. After the negotiations, our director Ray Acheson was honoured to be invited to discuss the treaty with Democracy Now!, Al Jazeera, and PRI’s The World.
What’s next? The support expressed for the treaty over the last several years continues into this new phase where we will need to work even more closely with states and legislators to join and implement it, including the nuclear-armed states that have so far boycotted this process.
WILPF will continue to be at the forefront of these efforts. Here’s how you can take action:
- Click here to see how your country voted.
- If it voted yes, encourage your government to sign the treaty at a high level when it opens for signature in September. Engage with parliamentarians to support the ratification phase that follows signature, including by asking them to endorse ICAN’s Parliamentary Pledge.
- If your country did not participate in the talks, or voted against its adoption, keep up the dialogue by pointing to the important impact that this agreement will make. Encourage supportive parliamentarians to endorse the ICAN’s Parliamentary Pledge.
- Keep up the writing, tweeting, and other social media pressure! Follow @RCW_ and #nuclearban.
Women's March to Ban the Bomb!
In the midst of nuclear ban negotiations, WILPF hosted the Women’s March to Ban the Bomb. We worked closely with women representing peace, disarmament, women’s rights, indigenous, environmental, and human rights communities to coordinate this epic event.
While the primary march and rally took place in New York City, there were about 150 diverse solidarity actions all over the world, including Afghanistan, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Cameroon, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Spain, Thailand, United Kingdom, and United States!
In NYC, around 1,000 committed people came out to march despite heavy rain and wind. The march was followed by a rally outside of the UN where an inspiring line-up of women addressed the determined crowd. Among them was Kozue Akibayashi, the President of WILPF International, who said, “The sufferings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have continued through generations. It is time for the governments to listen to the voices of women calling for elimination of nuclear weapons.”
You can check out cool videos about preparing the event, and about the event itself (made by Tim Wright of ICAN). You can also check out photos from the NYC action and photos from across Australia! Also read Ray’s article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about the Women’s March!
During the nuclear weapon ban treaty negotiations, activists from ICAN launched IQAN—International Queers Against Nukes. This new group, welcoming of LGBTQIA people, opposes nuclear weapons from a queer perspective. Its first political action was to march in the NYC Pride March in solidarity with Gays Against Guns and others calling to #disarmhate.
Then in July 2017, when the US President announced his plan to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the US military, WILPF partnered with Women’s March Global to speak out against militarism. The joint statement made it clear that it is the military, not trans or other queer people, that are the burdens on the world. “The burden,” said the statement, “is the overwhelming weight of the military budget in the world. The burden is the existence of military organisations that reinforce the systems of oppression both internally and externally. The burden is war, social injustice and the many militaries, dictators, governors and officials that are accountable for deaths, devastation, violence against women and LGBTQI and crimes against humanity. The burden is the discriminatory laws, the violations of our civil rights. The Burden is hate.” The statement also explained that the LGBTQI voices of Women’s March Global do not wish to be the armies of the world, calling instead to #MoveTheMoney towards healthcare, decent housing, equal workplace opportunities, social justice, education, the protection of our lives and rights, for all.
High Court decision allows UK government to keep selling arms to Saudi Arabia
The UK High Court handed down a disappointing verdict on 10 July in response to an action that had been brought by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) against the Secretary of State for International Trade. The case related to the UK’s decision to continue to grant licences for the export of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia. CAAT had argued this decision was against UK arms export policy, which clearly states that the government must deny such licences if there is a 'clear risk' that the arms 'might' be used in 'a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)'. It would have further constituted a violation of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which the UK had been a significant champion of for years, and was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the agreement.
The legal action followed serious allegations that Saudi forces might have used UK arms to violate IHL in their ongoing bombardment of Yemen. More than £3 billion of arms have been sold to Saudi Arabia from the UK since 2015, which is when the fighting in Yemen began. Other countries are also supplying arms or ammunition.
Frustratingly, the judgment sidesteps ruling on the legality of the decision to allow the transfers by claiming instead that, ultimately, the Secretary of State was legally entitled to decide whether or not to suspend or cancel arms sales to Saudi Arabia. A lack of transparency dogged the case throughout; with half of the evidence heard during the trial having been provided before a closed court. The court does acknowledge that there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that the Saudi-led coalition has committed serious breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen—much of which was presented by civil society groups as part of their testimonies—but argues that such open source material is ‘only part of the picture’.
Meanwhile, the conflict and its bombing campaign have left more than 70 per cent of the Yemeni population in desperate need of aid, particularly medical aid as cholera spreads rapidly. It is estimated that more than half of the country’s medical facilities have been destroyed.
The Geneva Centre for Security Policy wrapped up its one-week executive course on “Building Capacities on Arms Control in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region” with a presentation form WILPF about the role of civil society. Sarah Boukhary of the crisis response programme explained that civil society is multi-faceted, offering important expertise, research and practical support to arms control initiatives that go beyond the activism and advocacy often associated with non-governmental groups. She illustrated this through examples, including the experience of what WILPF has contributed to the process of agreeing and supporting implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty. The course attracted the participation of 13 officials from the MENA region (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, State of Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia) who were diplomats, military officers, and the Swiss Defence Attaché in Jordan.
The community of non-governmental experts and organisations concerned about the threat of armed drones took a step toward linking up their efforts. A meeting convened by Article 36 and WILPF brought together around 20 people representing academia, policy organisations and research groups to discuss common approaches and areas of mutual concern. WILPF has partnered with Article 36 and Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute in its work on drones, which will see a new publication released that features contributions covering multiple aspects and angles of the issue, including from countries and communities where drone strikes are prevalent.
Conference on Disarmament, Part Three
31 July–15 September 2017, Geneva
High-level fissile material cut-off treaty expert preparatory group
31 July–11 August 2017, Geneva
INEW Campaign Conference
31 August 2017, Geneva
Health Through Peace 2017
4–6 September 2017, York
Seventh Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM)
4–6 September 2017, Geneva
Third Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)
11–15 September 2017, Geneva
UN General Assembly high-level general debate
19–25 September 2017, New York City
Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opens for signature
20 September 2017, New York City
Conference on the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
20 September 2017, New York City
International Day of Peace
21 September 2017
International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
26 September 2016
UN General Assembly First Committee
2 October–2 November 2017, New York City
Australian aboriginal antinuclear activist Yami Lester passes away
Yankunytjatjara elder Yami Lester OAM, who was blinded by the 'Totem 1' nuclear test of 1953, never gave up fighting for his country and people. Yami played a vital role in exposing the terrible impacts of the British nuclear testing program, suffered largely by Aboriginal people whose lands were contaminated. Yami's daughters Rosemary and Karina are carrying on the fight. Rosemary recently spoke at the Women's March to Ban the Bomb in Sydney, and Karina addressed the ban treaty negotiating conference at the UN on behalf of 35 indigenous groups worldwide.
UN votes to consult the International Court of Justice over Chagos Islands
The UN General Assembly voted 94 to 15 to seek an advisory opinion from the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague on the legal status of the Chagos Islands, a British colony in the Indian Ocean. The UK separated the islands from Mauritius before the latter gained independence in 1968. The UK then leased the largest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States—which has used it ever since then as a military base. Mauritius asserts that the UK acted illegally in the way it exercised territorial control over the Chagos Islands.
China opens its first foreign military base
On 1 August, China officially opened its military base in Djibouti—its first overseas base. Djibouti already hosts several other foreign military bases, including from the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, and others. WILPF will be releasing a report on these bases, and the challenges they pose for the human trafficking and sexual violence in the region, in September 2017.
UK approves £283m of arms sales to Saudis after airstrike on Yemen funeral
The British government approved £283m of arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the six months after a Saudi airstrike on a funeral that killed scores of people and was criticised by the UN, figures reveal. The airstrike, on 8 October 2016, hit a funeral hall in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, killing 140 people and injuring hundreds more, in one of the bloodiest attacks in the two-year Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.
BAE posts $733m profit weeks after Saudi arms sales review
Britain's largest military corporation, BAE Systems, has made $733 million in six months, and expects further growth, in results posted weeks after the High Court challenge to its multi-billion-dollar arms deals with Saudi Arabia.
Canada to review Saudi arms deal following crackdown
At least five people were reported killed in a massive security operation involving hundreds of Saudi special police officers backed by dozens of armoured vehicles. This included the personnel carriers produced by Canada, the export of which has been at the centre of criticism from human rights advocates and others precisely because of the potential for their use against civilians. Global Affairs Canada has said that it will review what happened and are prepared to “take action,” a move that some feel falls short and comes too late.
Plans to replace Trident slammed as “unachievable” by Westminster watchdog
A new report from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) to the Cabinet Office and the Treasury in London has condemned the UK government’s £43 billion plans to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system and build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Report shows US coalition airstrikes against ISIS have killed 2000 civilians
The Daily Beast and monitoring organization Airwars reported that nearly as many civilians have already died from coalition airstrikes against ISIS during the Trump administration as were killed in airstrikes during the entirety of the Obama administration.
Trump administration launches review of drone export regulations
The Trump administration has officially launched a review of an Obama-era drone export policy, with expectations in industry that the administration will make it easier to export US-manufactured systems.
Convention on Cluster Munitions celebrates seven years since entering into force
The Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) celebrated on 1 August the seventh anniversary of the Convention on Cluster Munitions’ entry into force by taking action to call on states to remain committed to supporting its universalization and full implementation. Key achievements of the Convention include the strengthening of the global stigma against cluster munitions; growing adherence to the ban; the destruction of millions of submunitions by states parties; completion of clearance by eight countries that used to be affected by these horrific weapons; and advancing victim assistance activities and services.
US and DPRK continue testing nuclear weapons and delivery systems
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and United States tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in July.
Zia Mian, “After the nuclear weapons ban treaty: A new disarmament politics,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 7 July 2017
Amy McQuire, “Australia’s Refusal To Join Nuclear Arms Ban Treaty “Gutting” To Aboriginal Victims,” BuzzFeed, 10 July 2017
Sue Wareham, “Boys And Their Toys: The Growing Movement Against Nuclear Nations,” New Matilda, 12 July 2017
Hugh Gusterson, “The nuclear weapons ban treaty (not) in the news?,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 14 July 2017
Richard Falk, “Challenging Nuclearism: The Nuclear Ban Treaty Assessed,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 15 July 2017
Nina Tannenwald, “The U.N. just passed a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. That actually matters.” The Washington Post, 17 July 2017
Setsuko Thurlow, “Canada needs to embrace peace and sign nuclear ban treaty,” The Toronto Star, 26 July 2017