March 2018 E-News
In some countries, the month of March is designated as a time to honour women—even though that should happen year-round, of course! This March, we’re feeling proud of our sisters in WILPF-Spain who joined with millions of other women across the country in a nation-wide strike on International Women’s Day (8 March), and are also speaking out about being invited to give mere tokenistic input to the country’s development of a national action plan on women, peace, and security. At the same time, our thoughts are with the incredibly strong women enduring extreme conflict and suffering, such as described in our story about Eastern Ghouta, below. We must not let them lose hope, or feel that the world has forgotten them.
Many WILPF women are in New York this month to attend the annual Commission on the Status of Women which is focusing on challenges in achieving gender equality and empowering rural women and girls. Ray Acheson and Allison Pytlak, Reaching Critical Will’s director and manager respectively, are proud to have been named “Champions of Change” by UN Women’s Metro New York chapter in recognition for their work in advancing peace and security, one of the four UN Women priority areas. Against the backdrop of #MeToo and #TimesUp, International Women’s Day seemed to take on new dimensions this year.
Looking ahead, Reaching Critical Will is gearing up for a busy few months with a series of conferences and events scheduled, ranging from small arms and light weapons, to "killer robots", and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as listed in the Upcoming Events section below. Reaching Critical Will will be there, providing coverage and analysis.
Last but certainly not least—we’re very excited to launch a new resource guide about the nuclear ban treaty for the WILPF network, to equip us in this next phase of advocacy. Look for it, as well as a new series of infographics, on our website soon.
In this edition
WILPF partners in Syria share messages from Eastern Ghouta
In recent weeks the Syrian government, with the support of Russian air power, has been indiscriminately bombing the area of Eastern Ghouta. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, about 1150 people have been killed since the government started its offensive. The sustained offensive is in violation of the 30-day ceasefire for the delivery of humanitarian aid adopted by the UN Security Council on 24 February, as well as international law on the of protection civilians and the prohibition of chemical weapons and cluster munitions.
Lubna Alkanawati, the Syrian Country Director of Women Now for Development, a WILPF partner, created a video to share what those in Eastern Ghouta are experiencing. “My two hands are not enough to cover my two children and protect them from the insane bombing around us” said one clip. The 4000,000 civilians of Eastern Ghouta have been forced to take cover from the bombing of their residential neighbourhoods in underground shelters that aren’t stocked with enough food and water. Women Now for Development reported on 8 March that its team in Eastern Ghouta, consisting of 60 women, and other civilians for the past 17 days have been living in “ill-equipped bunkers” and are “unable to eat, as there is no food reaching the area.” They described the night of 7-8 March as “a catastrophic night under chlorine gas and cluster bombs.” Women Now for Development are calling for an immediate ceasefire so that aid can be delivered.
Don’t Bank on the Bomb report calls for divestment from the nuclear weapons industry
The 2018 edition of Don’t Bank on the Bomb report, published by Dutch peace group PAX, exposes a massive increase of USD $181 billion in nuclear weapons investments. The report identifies 319 significant investors in the top 20 nuclear weapon producers. The majority of investors are based in the US and, the report says, are profiting from the new nuclear arms race as fueled by the Trump administration’s new nuclear policies.
The report also identifies the financial institutions that have adopted policies prohibiting any investment in nuclear weapons. By shifting money from the companies with a stake in the nuclear weapons industry to those actively prohibiting any involvement in it, a powerful incentive is created for more companies to divest from nuclear weapons. Since the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the UN in July 2017, two of the five biggest pension funds in the world have decided to end their relationship with nuclear weapon producers citing “international developments” as the motivating factor. PAX stresses that “investments are not neutral” and provides individuals and companies with the information needed in order to divest from weapons of mass destruction and only invest in companies that are in compliance with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Governments meet to discuss Arms Trade Treaty
States met in Geneva in early March for a series of Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) related meetings. This included meetings of the working groups on transparency and reporting, implementation, and universalisation as well as preparatory discussions for the fourth conference of states parties (CSP4) scheduled for 20-24 August in Japan. Japan, president of CSP4, has pledged a $3 million contribution to the Voluntary Trust Fund, part of which will be earmarked towards universalisation efforts in Asia-Pacific.
The working group on transparency and reporting encountered challenges in its discussions, owing to conflicting understandings between states parties about reporting obligations, schedules, and data accuracy. Some time in the implementation working group was devoted to discussing the challenges of arms diversion as well as how to better address the different baseline capacity levels between states parties and understandings about their engagement in the arms trade. It was proposed that a “welcome pack” for new states parties could be a useful way to build knowledge and capacity.
Civil society groups such as the Control Arms Coalition that were present at the meetings, noted the sad irony in these conversations taking place at the same time as the UK, an ATT state party, was hosting the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and bidding to secure more arms contracts with the country whose coalition attacks are bringing Yemen to brink of collapse.
"Killer robots" discussions set to resume in April
The next meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons systems (LAWs) will take place on 9-13 April in Geneva. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a steering committee member, has stressed the need for the meeting to be “action-oriented” and “pave the way to international negotiations on a legally binding instrument”. The Campaign is urging states to focus their discussions on determining a working definition on autonomous weapons systems, the degree of autonomy at which they draw the line, and how to retain meaningful human control over weapons systems.
Kazakhstan signs nuclear ban treaty!
On the day of the 26th anniversary of Kazakhstan's accession to the United Nations, an official ceremony was held at the UN Headquarters for signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) by the Republic of Kazakhstan by Ambassador Umarov. President Nazarbayev, while presiding over a Security Council meeting in January 2018, had called upon all member states to build a world without nuclear weapons by 2045 - the UN's 100th anniversary. "Those nuclear bombs and rockets do not possess real power. The true protection is provided through the trust of the international community," the President stated. Kazakhstan is the 57th country to sign the TPNW.
9-13 April 2018, Geneva
Students at the forefront of nation-wide movement to end gun violence in the US
The students who survived the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on 14 February have become the leaders of a national movement against gun violence and the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). In the few weeks since the shooting, students have walked out of schools across the country in solidarity and protest, they have marched to Florida’s state capitol in Tallahassee to demand new gun control policies, and they are planning a “March for our Lives” on 24 March in Washington, DC and a “walk out” on 14 March. In response to their powerful speeches and activism, a growing list of companies have decided to cut ties with the NRA, end discount programs for NRA members, and raise the minimum age for gun purchases.
Historic DPRK-US talks to take place by May 2018
On 8 March South Korea’s security office chief, Chung Eui-yong, announced that Trump had accepted an invitation from the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, to meet possibly as soon as May 2018. Taking advantage of the diplomatic opening the Olympic Games provided, a South Korean envoy had traveled first to Pyongyang and then to the United States, delivering an oral invitation to a summit meeting from Kim Jong-un to President Trump. If the summit meeting takes place it will be the first time in history that leaders of North Korea and a sitting US President meet.
NGOs speak out against armed drones
A diverse group of 13 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has issued a joint statement against the reported new US policy on the use of armed drones and lethal force. President Trump has bragged about loosening rules of engagement and expanding the scope of its drone operations in areas that are not conventional conflict zones for the US. By declaring parts of Yemen and Somalia areas of “active hostilities” last year, the Trump administration side-stepped measures introduced by the Obama administration to restrict the use of drone strikes outside of war zones and limit civilian casualties.
Western powers fueling conflict in Yemen condemn Iran for violating arms embargo
Four Western powers—France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States—condemned Iran for violating the arms embargo on Yemen by allegedly failing to prevent the transfer of its missiles to the Houthi rebels. The hypocrisy of this move has not been missed, with journalists pointing to both the French and the British arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition accused of war crimes in Yemen. Of the four powers, only Germany has decided to halt arms sales to the coalition members. In addition to its weapons sales, the US has been carrying out drone strikes in Yemen, which have killed between 166 and 210 civilians according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and has been helping refuel the aircraft of the Saudi-led coalition. A bipartisan group of US senators has introduced a resolution to Congress to end US involvement in the Yemen conflict.
SIPRI publishes latest trends in international arms transfers
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has published new data that shows that the volume of arms transfers has increased by 10 percent between the periods of 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. The chair of the SIPRI Governing Board, said this trend “stresses the need to improve and implement international mechanisms such as the Arms Trade Treaty.” SIPRI found that the US arms exports have increased by 25 percent between the two periods, now accounting for 34 percent of global arms exports and extending its lead as the world’s biggest exporter.
Paul Meyer, "Folding the Umbrella: Nuclear Allies, the NPT and the Ban Treaty", Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, February 2018
Jorge Alberto López Lechuga, “From Tlatelolco to the UN Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty,” In Depth News, 17 February 2018
Dr Ian Anthony and Dr John Hart, "Strengthening the ban on chemical weapons: The case of Syria", SIPRI, 13 February 2018
Mary Wareham, "Mary Wareham: Want to worry about AI? Then worry about this…," Robot Republic, 7 March 2018
William Hartung, "Trump Makes Over $80 Billion in Major Arms Deals in First Year", Security Assistance Monitor, 8 March 2018
Izumi Nakamitsu, “International Women’s Day 2018: The Women Who Have Shaped Policies on Nuclear Weapons”, Teen Vogue, 8 March 2018
Reaching Critical Will, 2018 NPT Briefing Book, 12 March 2018