November 2016 E-News
“Revolt is one of the only coherent philosophical positions. It challenges the world anew every second.”
- Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
It’s difficult at this moment to celebrate our gains as we look at the challenges we face ahead—a picture made more grim and difficult by the recent election results in the United States. The election of a misogynistic, racist bully to the White House poses serious threats to the rights and lives of so many people within the United States and around the world. But as we have before, we must stand up and resist.
On 27 October, we saw a great act of resistance and revolt at the United Nations, which voted to outlaw nuclear weapons. There were celebrations in the conference room as 123 states decided to take a stand against the 38 states that refuse to support the prohibition of these weapons of mass destruction, despite their repeated commitments to achieving and maintaining a nuclear weapon free world and their legal obligations to pursue and conclude multilateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament.
States’ positions on the possession of nuclear weapons—or on any other number of issues—are based on politics and power. They look like trenches that are dug very deep. Our job is to fill in those trenches. Where they cannot be filled in, due to political intransigence or military belligerence, our job is to jump over them, to creatively find ways around them, over them, or through them. I write of “us” in the collective sense of states, civil society, and international organisations that seek peace, security, and justice in a world seemingly controlled by military might, neoliberal capitalism, and violent patriarchy. We are threatened when we challenge these systems of power and injustice. We have as our tools the law, truth, resilience, hope, and solidarity.
We can see this at Standing Rock, where the Sioux, the traditional owners of the land, and others are protesting against an oil pipeline that is intended to run from North Dakota to Illinois, threatening the water supply for all. We can see it in Colombia, where peace groups, women’s groups, and many others are protesting and campaigning in favour of the historic peace agreement with FARC. We can see it Turkey, where protestors are taking on the detention of journalists. We saw it with the Women’s Boat to Gaza, which was intercepted and seized by the Israeli military on its way to provide aid to Palestinians. We saw it in Poland, where extensive protests against a proposed law banning abortion caused legislators with the country’s ruling party to reverse their positions and vote against the proposal. We can see it in the United States, where already millions of people are coming together in the streets and online to protest the presidency of Donald Trump before it has even begun, recognising the potential catastrophe it holds for the country and the world.
Whether or not all of these actions are successful in achieving their goals, they are successful in contributing to a culture of resistance to unfettered or unjust power, and a culture of demanding justice and lawfulness even in the face of violence and intimidation. Outlawing nuclear weapons makes a contribution to building a culture of peace, nonviolence, and justice and of defying those who deem themselves powerful in order to do so.
In this edition:
- Welcoming a new staff member!
- On the road to banning nuclear weapons
- Confronting US military bases: Pine Gap, Australia and Diego Garcia, Mauritius
- Confronting harm from bombing in towns and cities
- The impact of the arms trade on women's rights
- Keep Space for Peace Week
- Women Cross DMZ letter to Ban Ki-moon
- Humanitarian disarmament forum
- International Peace Bureau Congress
- Upcoming events
- Featured news
- Recommended reading
We’re very pleased to welcome Allison Pytlak as a Programme Consultant for Reaching Critical Will! Many of you will already know Allison from her work with the Control Arms coalition focusing on the Arms Trade Treaty. She has also worked with Religions for Peace and Mines Action Canada on a broader range of arms issues, and has significant experience in campaigning and advocacy, research and writing, project management, and multilateral treaty negotiations. You can contact Allison at allison[at]reachingcriticalwill.org.
On 27 October, the UN adopted a resolution establishing negotiations next year on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons! This is the opportunity we’ve been working for. As expected, most nuclear-armed states voted no, and some tried to bully other states into rejecting it as well. But 123 states voted in favour, which means negotiations will go forward!
The act of prohibiting nuclear weapons is an act of nonviolent, positive, courageous revolt. “Will this process be the most efficient way to achieve the goal of full nuclear disarmament?” asked Sweden after supporting the resolution in the vote. “The fact is that we do not know today. But given the stakes involved, we believe we have an obligation to try, mindful of the challenges involved.”
See ICAN’s press release and RCW’s editorial announcing the decision. Also check out RCW’s First Committee Monitor editions throughout the course of the General Assembly meeting on disarmament and international security. You can also find statements, resolutions, voting results, explanations of vote, and other information on our website.
In September and October, antiwar activists from across Australia gathered near the centre of the country to demand the government close the secretive Pine Gap military base, 50 years after its establishment. 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 target US nuclear weapons.
WILPF members from Australia, as well as Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will, participated in actions at the gates of Pine Gap, including one organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) that involved dismantling a model of a US nuclear weapon in the desert. Ray also spoke at the Independent and Peace Australia Network (IPAN) National Conference on 1 October conference about Australia’s role in global disarmament initiatives. She brought international news about progress towards ban nuclear weapons, as well as information about drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia that are launched from Djibouti—in which Pine Gap is involved.
The same weekend that IPAN met, activists campaigning for the end of the US military base on Diego Garcia also gathered. 2016 also marks the 50th anniversaryof the establishment of a US military base at Diego Garcia, a small island in the Chagos Archipelago that is part of Mauritius but was excised by the United Kingdom during colonisation. The UK and US governments have imposed 50 years of militarism upon the people this small island in the Indian Ocean, who were forcibly removed from their homes. The Chagossians and other Mauritians from other parts of the country have led 50 years of resistance, demanding the decolonisation and reunification of Mauritius and resettlement of people that were forcibly removed by the UK government and the closure of the military base on Diego Garcia.
On 4 October, Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Mozambique convened a meeting of states, international organisations, and civil society to respond to the civilian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Discussions are starting towards developing a political instrument to address this humanitarian problem, and to set a political and operational direction against the use in populated areas of those explosive weapons that expose civilians to the gravest risks. The countries at the meeting exchanged views on what the elements of a political declaration on explosive weapons must be. INEW, of which WILPF is a steering group member, called on states to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, among other things.
At the end of September, WILPF worked with the Human Rights Information and Training Centre (HRITC) to hold a side event to the thirty-third session of the Human Rights Council on “Addressing the Impact of Arms Trade on Women’s Rights”. This event examined the conflict in Yemen to demonstrate the impact that international arms transfers have on human rights, in particular women’s human rights. Arms transfers facilitate human rights abuses. In any context of armed conflict, arms control, embargoes on arms transfers, and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty would help to prevent violations of human rights. The gendered dimensions of arms transfers need to be made clear so that women’s participation is properly supported throughout conflict resolution.
The annual Keep Space for Peace Week, a week of raising awareness to protest and protect against the militarisation and weaponisation of outer space, was held 1–8 October 2016. This year, Keep Space for Peace Week focused on US missile defence systems in NATO and Asia-Pacific bases. It is argued that the strategic placement of these defence systems might already constitute an arms race, however asymmetric, between the US, and Russia, and China. Check out WILPF’s blog for more information.
On 26 September 2016, Women Cross DMZ presented an open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urging him to initiate a formal process for a peace treaty in Korea. Women leaders from 38 countries signed the letter, including South Korean women’s organizations representing thousands of Korean women. WILPF, which participated in the crossing last year, hosted a press conference on 27 September in New York to explain why Mr. Ban’s leadership was urgently needed now to de-escalate dangerous tensions rising on the Korean Peninsula and in the Northeast Asia region.
The fifth Humanitarian Disarmament Forum was held in New York on the margins of the General Assembly First Committee from 15-16 October. This year, the Forum was hosted by Handicap International, Mines Action Canada, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). More than 100 activists participated in this annual gathering organised under the theme of “Higher, Faster, Stronger”. The 2016 forum focused on our community and how we can be even more effective in working for higher standards, faster progress, and stronger campaigns. It featured updates from global NGO coalitions working to advance humanitarian disarmament, remarks by invited diplomats on their experiences cooperating with humanitarian disarmament campaigns, and numerous exchanges to discuss key questions such as how to better acknowledge and address marginalized voices in our movement.
WILPF had a strong presence at this year’s International Peace Bureau Congress in Berlin. The theme of the congress was “Disarm! For a Climate of Peace”, with plenaries, panels, and workshops organised around UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s statement, “the world is over-armed and peace is under funded.” WILPF’s work in demilitarisation was widely represented, including on issues of NATO opposition, promoting a culture and a politics of peace, women’s resistance in the face of physical and structural violence, the refugee crisis, food security, and the gendered impacts of the arms trade. WILPF Sections from Norway, Finland, Germany, Scotland, Denmark, and Spain were involved in creating and leading these discussions. In addition, WILPF Secretary General, Madeleine Rees, addressed the Congress on the urgent need for feminist responses to patriarchy and armed violence.
15th Republic of Korea-United Nations Joint Conference on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Issues
17–18 November 2016, Seoul, Republic of Korea
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
25 November 2017
16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence
25 November–10 December 2017
Fifteenth Meeting of the States Parties of the Mine Ban Treaty
28 November–2 December 2016, Santiago, Chile
Group of Governmental Experts on information and telecommunications security: second session
28 November–2 December 2016, Geneva, Switzerland
International Human Rights Day
10 December 2016
Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons: Fifth Review Conference
12–16 December 2016, Geneva, Switzerland
Scottish CND’s John Ainslie passes away
On 21 October, Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s co-coordinator John Ainslie passed away. This is a great loss to the peace and antinuclear movements. John was a tireless organiser of events and activities all aimed at making the case for a nuclear weapons free world. As Scottish CND has said, “We are immensely grateful to John for his intellectual vigour, organisational and strategic skills, and sheer commitment he gave to our organisation over so many years.”
US pressured NATO states to vote no to a ban
In a document from October 17, the United States warned other NATO members that efforts to negotiate a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons or to delegitimise nuclear deterrence “are fundamentally at odds with NATO’s basic policies on deterrence”. In the letter, the US government strongly urges allies and partners to vote no to the resolution, and “not to merely abstain.” and continues to argue that “if negotiations do commence, we ask allies and partners to refrain from joining them.” The US also led an “aggressive campaign” against the ban at the UN throughout October.
Syria envoy warns of eastern Aleppo’s destruction
The whole of rebel-held eastern Aleppo could be destroyed by Christmas if the “cruel, constant” Russian-backed bombing of the Syrian city continues, the UN special envoy for Syria has warned.
US calls for end to Saudi airstrikes in Yemen
The US has called for an end to airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen at a UN Security Council meeting, but critics pointed out that Washington continues to supply arms and provide other military support to Saudi Arabia.
Date set for court challenge to ban British arms sales to Saudi Arabia
A date has been set for a High Court court challenge that could halt British arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Two judges will conduct a three-day judicial review of arms export licences issued by the British government for military hardware to the autocratic government. The review will start on 7 February 2017.
Progress on cluster bomb destruction and clearance, but continued use in Syria and Yemen
The 2015 Cluster Munition Monitor was released in September. Findings reveal that 29 States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions have completed the destruction of nearly 1.4 million stockpiled cluster munitions. Despite international outcry, cluster munitions continued to be used in two countries. Cluster munition attacks in Syria have increased since Russia began its joint military operation with Syrian government forces at the end of September 2015; now there are almost daily reports of new cluster munition attacks. Between April 2015 and March 2016, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of states used cluster munitions in at least 19 attacks in Yemen. None of these countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Canada blocks arms transfer to Thailand
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion blocked a shipment of military goods to Thailand this year, with his department citing human rights among the reasons. Only months earlier, the Liberals approved the lion’s share of a $15-billion export of combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia – a country regularly excoriated for its human-rights record. The stark contrast in how the Trudeau government treated arms shipments to the two countries surprised rights advocates and weapons-trade experts, who suggest the decision may have been relative to the size of the arms deal.
Governments agree plan to address refugee crisis at UN General Assembly High Level meetings
With forced migration at its highest level in decades, world leaders met in a summit at part of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September. They agreed to a seven step Declaration that included, among other things, a call to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence. Many of the people fleeing their homes are doing so as a result of armed conflict and insecurity.
“Japan’s hypocritical nuclear stance,” The Japan Times, 3 November 2016
Marie-Danielle Smith, “Trudeau urged to follow in his father’s anti-nuclear footsteps and support UN disarmament treaty,” National Post, 2 November 2016
Madeleine Rees, “On the UN designation of Wonder Woman,” WILPF, 26 October 2016
“Despite the loss of ‘yes’ in the Colombian referendum, women continue to resist and promote peace in Colombia,” WILPF, 5 October 2016
Colum Lynch, “U.S. Seeks to Scupper Proposed Ban on Nuclear Arms,” Foreign Policy, 21 October 2016
Armed and Insecure: An overview of arms transfers and armed violence in the Horn of Africa, PAX, 27 September 2016
Ray Acheson, “Decolonise and demilitarise the Chagos islands!” WILPF, 22 September 2016
WILPF Statement on the use of weapons and arms transfers to parties to the conflict in Yemen, 15 September 2016