September 2017 E-News

As we leap into September, there are many challenges ahead—and many opportunities to grapple with them on the international level. The UN General Assembly’s opening session of 2017 will host several nuclear weapon-related meetings, including the signing ceremony for the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons! The nuclear ban offers an alternative the aggressive posturing in the news between the United States and North Korea—security does not have to be a zero sum game, if we put the safety of our planet and our fellow humans first. But before we witness the ban treaty opening for signature, we also have to deal with the arms trade. Despite the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) three years ago, many governments are making unprecedented profits on the backs of humanitarian catastrophes. The Third Conference of States Parties to the ATT, which opens next week in Geneva, needs to take serious action to challenge those in violation of the Treaty’s humanitarian principles and objectives. There’s information on these events and much more in this edition of the E-News, and stay tuned for new publications and other reports coming out this month!

In this edition:

 Signing the nuclear weapon ban treaty

On 20 September, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will open for signature! This will be the first opportunity for countries to indicate that they will seek to ratify this instrument, which is how we will achieve the Treaty’s entry into force. The signing ceremony will be held at the United Nations in New York during the UN General Assembly’s high-level segment—which means heads of state, foreign ministers, and other high-level officials will have the opportunity to represent their governments in signing this groundbreaking Treaty! WILPF and other ICAN members will be present at the ceremony and will circulate as much information as possible, so stay tuned.
Ahead of the signing ceremony, media interest in the nuclear ban has continued, especially in the face of belligerent rhetoric from the US President about the potential of nuclear war with the DPRK. Local radio is a great source of decentralized, non-mainstream information, and our director Ray Acheson was honoured to speak to Tampa Bay’s WMNF 88.5FM (10 August recording; interview starts at mid-way point) and Vancouver’s Co-op Radio 100.5FM (12 August 10:00 recording; interview starts around the 8 minute mark) about the ban treaty and related nuclear weapon issues.

 Stop the arms fair, stop the arms trade

This weekend in London, arms producers and war profiteers from around the globe will gather for the world’s largest arms fair. In response, activists have gathered to impede the fair in every way possible. They have blockaded the roads, preventing the weapons from being able to access the exhibition spaces. They have hung off bridges, danced, sung, and prayed, created art, and raised awareness around the world about the arms fair and its contributions to global violence.
The arms fair precedes the Third Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This is an opportunity to review the implementation of the Treaty, which was developed to prevent human suffering and human rights violations. Unfortunately, more than two years after the Treaty entered into force, these aspirations remain unfulfilled and several states parties—including some of key champions such as the United Kingdom—are violating its provisions. Campaign Against Arms Trade, one of the key organisers of Stop the Arms Fair, has sued the UK government in High Court over its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen with its bombing of towns and cities since March 2015. At the last ATT Conference of States Parties in 2016, governments refused to talk about this situation or any other arms transfers that may be in violation of the Treaty. States parties must do better at next week’s meeting. The only way for the Treaty to be effectively implemented is for its states parties to condemn violations and end arms transfers that result in human suffering.
WILPF’s resources on the ATT meeting include the daily ATT Monitor. Subscribe now to receive this source of information and analysis during the conference! We have also published a summary version of our comprehensive report on how to implement the ATT’s provisions related to gender-based violence, and we will participate in three side events:

 Confronting explosive violence

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a humanitarian catastrophe. It is preventable, by ending this practice and by stopping arms transfers to those that bomb towns and cities. The devastation of towns and cities during war is dangerously becoming a “new normal”—the ongoing or recent bombardment of cities in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen illustrate the problem but are by no means the only examples. Urgent action is needed to protect civilians and end human suffering. UN discussions on explosive violence and on the arms trade provide these opportunities, but states must seize them now. Read more in a new RCW blog >>

 Health Through Peace

From 4–6 September, Medact and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear Weapon (IPPNW) hosted a conference for medical professionals and activists to debate, educate, and advocate for social justice and demilitarisation. Many of the panels and workshops focused on the nuclear weapon ban treaty and moving forward to use this as a tool for abolition. In addition, WILPF co-organised a workshop on feminist peace organising. Ray Acheson joined Laila Alodaat, WILPF’s Crisis Response programme manager, and Hannah Wright from the London School of Economics to talk about constructions of gender and their relationship to militarism; gendered discourses around nuclear weapons, armed drones, and the arms trade; and the impacts of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas on women.

 Process on autonomous weapons to move ahead

An important week of formal discussions on fully autonomous weapons appears set to proceed, despite earlier concerns about a lack of funds for the meeting and the cancellation of an August session. The meeting is set for 13-17 November in Geneva and will build on earlier discussions. India, which will chair the meeting, has circulated a “food for thought” paper. While it’s positive that the process may not be stalled after all, it is imperative that governments make use of the time in November for focused and solution-oriented discussions that are premised on the humanitarian and ethical concerns about the implications of fully autonomous weapons.
“Countries that agree with the need to retain human control of weapons systems should move swiftly to adopt national policies and laws and to negotiate a new international treaty prohibiting fully autonomous weapons,” the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a steering group member, has stated. The call for a preemptive ban on fully autonomous weapons has been endorsed by 19 countries and dozens more states have affirmed the need to retain human control over the selection of targets and use of force.

 UN General Assembly meetings and events

The 72nd session of the UN General Assembly begins on 12 September. There are a number of events and meetings important to disarmament and arms control during its opening session this year, including:
UNGA high-level debate
From 19–25 September 2017, heads of state, foreign ministers, and other high-level officials will gather in New York to discuss urgent and emerging issues related to international peace and security. Each year, WILPF’s programmes in New York monitor the debate for references to disarmament and to women’s rights. Reaching Critical Will posts all statements related to disarmament and arms control issues on an index on our website, starting on 19 September.
Article XIV Conference on the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
On 20 September, CTBT states parties and observers will gather for the 17th biennial conference to promote the Treaty’s entry into force. Statements and other information will be available on the CTBT Organisation’s website.
International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
The UNGA has designated 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a high priority. It also provides an opportunity to educate the public—and their leaders—about the real benefits of eliminating such weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them. This year will provide an excellent opportunity to promote the nuclear weapon ban treaty, which will have opened for signature only days before. The UN in New York will hold a commemoration, from which Reaching Critical Will will be posting statements and other information online as feasible.
High-level meeting on the appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons
On 27–28 September, the UNGA will convene a high-level meeting to assess achievements, gaps, and challenges, including in the implementation of the relevant legal instruments, in relation to its Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Ahead of this meeting, WILPF will launch a research report conducted by Reaching Critical Will about the relationship between human trafficking, sexual violence, and foreign military bases in Djibouti. The report, Remote warfare and sexual violence in Djibouti, provides information and analysis on the militarisation of the country through the stationing of foreign troops from all over the world, including a large US military base from which armed drones and special forces operations are launched into neighbouring countries, and provides preliminary research linking the militarisation to sexual violence.

UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security
It’s almost time for First Committee again! This annual UNGA conference focuses on disarmament and international security, producing resolutions and other collaborative initiatives aimed at advancing multilateral work on weapons-related issues. Last year was the most exciting round in recent history, with the adoption of the resolution establishing negotiations of the nuclear weapon ban treaty. With the successful conclusion of those negotiations behind us, what will be the triumph of this year’s session?
Ahead of this meeting, Reaching Critical Will has published a collaborative briefing book from the leading civil society campaigns working on issues relevant for First Committee. It includes an overview of the current state of play on critical topics as well as recommendations for governments to take forward during the meeting. During First Committee, we will also produce our weekly analytical reports in the First Committee Monitor—be sure to subscribe now to receive this by email!

 New publications

Published ahead of the 2017 UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, this briefing book provides an  overview of the state of play on some of the most pressing disarmament and arms control issues. It also outlines recommendations for governments from some of the key civil society groups working on these topics. The civil society organisations, coalitions, and campaigns participating most actively at First Committee have argued consistently that we can and must replace watered-down outcomes with real results that advance human security and social and economic justice.



Published ahead of the Third Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), this briefing paper provides tools and guidelines for effective implementation of the gender-based violence provisions of ATT. Drawing on a comprehensive research report published by Reaching Critical Will in April 2016, this paper includes an overview of the relationship between the arms trade and gender-based violence and provides sample questions and sources of information for arms export officials to employ during risk assessment processes mandated by the ATT.

 Upcoming events

Stop the Arms Fair
4–11 September 2017, London

Third Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty
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

Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems
13–17 November 2017, Geneva

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons meeting of high-contracting parties
22–24 November 2017, Geneva

 Featured news

Atomic bomb survivor Sumiteru Taniguchi passes away
Taniguchi survived the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki. He was 16 at the time, and was about 1.8 kilometers away from ground zero when the bomb hit. He suffered severe burns on his back. Ten years after the bombing, Taniguchi formed a group with other survivors who experienced the ordeal. Taniguchi had served as a representative of Nihon Hidankyo, or the Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers Organizations, since 2010.
Marshall Islands former Foreign Minister Tony de Brum passes away
On 22 August, Tony de Brum, former Foreign Minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), passed away. He played a key role in the negotiations that led to the first compact of free association between the US and the RMI, and participated in the development of the Constitution of the RMI. He was a powerful and inspiring voice for the abolition of nuclear weapons. He was nine years old when the US conducted the Castle Bravo nuclear weapon test. In 2014, he led in filing the Nuclear Zero Lawsuits in the International Court of Justice, landmark cases against the nine nuclear-armed nations “for failing to comply with their obligations under international law to pursue negotiations in good faith for the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons.”
US pressures Sweden to not sign nuclear weapon ban treaty
US secretary of defence James Mattis has reportedly warned Sweden that, if the country signs the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, it risks reduced military cooperation with the US and a lower chance of US assistance in the event of an attack. Sweden's defence minister Peter Hultqvist on Tuesday received a classified letter from Mattis that apparently outlines a tougher US position. Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallström has indicated that Sweden intends to sign the treaty on 20 September.
State actors cause most civilian casualties from explosive violence in 2017
For the first time since Action on Armed Violence began recording explosive violence casualties, state actors caused the most civilian casualties. In the first half of 2017, there was an 186% increase in civilian casualties from state explosive violence since 2016; this is a 251% increase from 2011. Meanwhile, Airwars has reported that August 2017 was the worst month for reported and likely civilian deaths from coalition actions in Syria, with Raqqa being the hardest hit.

Human rights groups have urged the UN to establish an independent inquiry into abuses in Yemen conflict
In a letter addressed to the UN human rights council, a coalition of 62 NGOs warned that serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are being committed with impunity. “The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes … that have killed thousands of civilians and hit schools, hospitals, markets, and homes. The Houthi armed group and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have fired weapons indiscriminately into populated areas in Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia and used explosive weapons with wide-scale effects,” wrote the signatories to the letter. Parties to the conflict are also recruiting child soldiers, preventing the delivery of aid and harassing activists and journalists, said the NGOs.
Casualties from cluster munitions doubles from last year
The latest annual report from the Cluster Munition Coalition shows that casualties from cluster munitions, internationally outlawed weapons that kill indiscriminately, more than doubled in 2016 compared with the previous year. Most of the increase was attributed to the war in Syria, where government forces began using the weapons in July 2016 with Russia’s support.
Russia uses Syria as testing ground for new weapons
Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov said Russia is hopeful that the new weapons it tested for the first time in Syria will lead to a spike in arms sales abroad. “The chance to test weapons in real combat can’t be overestimated,” he noted. “Customers have started queuing up for the weapons that have proven themselves in Syria,” which include Su-30 and Su-35 fighter jets, new helicopter gunships, missiles, electronic warfare systems, infantry weapons, and other equipment.
Activists blockade London arms fair
From 4–11 September, activists with Stop the Arms Fair blockaded and protested the world’s largest arms fair at London’s docklands.
US to consider arming Ukraine
The Trump administration has reopened consideration of long-rejected plans to give Ukraine lethal weapons. Similar to previous proposals, the plan endorsed by the Pentagon and the State Department is looking for authorisation to provide Ukraine with anti-tank and potentially anti-aircraft capabilities.
Activists blockade US nuclear submarine base
On 14 August, activists with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action blockaded Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, just 20 miles from Seattle. The nuclear submarine base is home to the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the United States. More than 1,300 nuclear warheads are deployed on Trident D-5 missiles on the eight ballistic missile submarines based at Bangor or stored at Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) at the base.
US Air Force announces new nuclear weapon contracts
In August, the US Air Force announced major new contracts for an overhaul of the US nuclear weapon force: $1.8 billion for initial development of a highly stealthy nuclear cruise missile, and nearly $700 million to begin replacing the 40-year-old Minuteman missiles in silos across the United States.
Japan has started deploying land-based Patriot interceptors
The Japanese Defense Ministry said the Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, surface-to-air interceptors are being deployed at four locations: Hiroshima, Kochi, Shimane and Ehime.
Australia set to acquire armed Reaper drones from United States
US company General Atomics is rumoured to be set to win a multi-million dollar contract for Australia’s first armed drones. However, Israeli Aerospace Industries has accused the Australian Defence Department of lacking transparency in the evaluation process.
Canada to undertake investigation into its arms sales to Saudi Arabia
Due to heightened scrutiny of media and civil society, Global Affairs Canada has announced an investigation into recent reports of the use of Canadian-made military equipment to violently suppress protest in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. However welcome the investigation, civil society actors in Canada argue that the key threshold that should have guided the human rights assessment of the export permit authorization process has always been a reasonable risk that Canadian-made arms exports might be used against a civilian population—a risk that has long been apparent.

UN’s expert group on cyber conflict hits deadlock
Discussions aiming to develop a universal framework for behaviour in cyberspace fell apart in June, at the final meeting of a group of governmental experts that has been meeting over the last two years, building on work began by earlier groups over a decade ago. Reportedly talks broke down around the principle of self-defence and the applicability of international law in cyber space. A small group of states (China, Cuba, and Russia) expressed newfound concern about doing so, stating that this would affirm the militarization of cyber space while others, primarily western countries, disagreed.  

Recommended reading

Cassady Rosenblum, “Yemen is a humanitarian catastrophe. U.S. officials don’t want you to know why,” Los Angeles Times, 3 August 2017
Samira Shackle, “Syrian feminists: ‘This is the chance the war gave us—to empower women,” The Guardian, 7 August 2017
Susan Southard, “72 years after the bombing of Nagasaki, there are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world,” Los Angeles Times, 9 August 2017
Emran Feroz, “Fearful villagers see the U.S. using Afghanistan as a ‘playground for their weapons’,” The Intercept, 15 August 2017
Ryan Gallagher, “The U.S. Spy Hub in the Heart of Australia,” The Intercept, 19 August 2017
Lana Khattab and Henri Myrttinen, “Why gender matters in Syria’s rebuilding efforts,” LSE Gender Institute, 29 August 2017
Linda McQuaig, “Canada abandons proud history as ‘nuclear nag’ when most needed,” Toronto Star, 30 August 2017
Gem Romuld, “Nuclear War or Prohibition? Australia Can Choose,” New Matilda, 6 September 2017