September E-News

In the latest article of WILPF’s long-read series on abolition, RCW’s Ray Acheson looks at the structure, weapons, and practices of war and calls for its abolition. She reflects on the system of perpetual war in all its aspects, fought at home and abroad, and the political economies of violence that dominate in our current world order. But she also describes possibilities for a different world, in which militarism and weaponisation of our lives is replaced with solidarity, cooperation, and collective care. As we embark upon the International Day of Peace, the new session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and the resumption of several disarmament forums, we should take the opportunity to reflect on what we have learned these past months about isolation vs. cooperation and work with earnest to build new systems and structures of nonviolence, where demilitarising our lives is seen as the path to peace.

In this edition

UN meeting on killer robots to take place after months of uncertainty

After two postponed sessions and two informal consultations convened by the Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), it looks like the first round of UN meetings on killer robots in 2020 will commence next week. Delegates will meet in-person, with one participant per delegation, from 21–25 September in Geneva. However, the September GGE meeting might be postponed again due to procedural disagreements about meeting modalities. If the meeting does go ahead, it will allow for remote participation in all six UN languages, while UNWebTV will broadcast it on its livestream. WILPF and other representatives from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots will participate in and report from the meeting. To catch up on this process, and learn what’s at stake, subscribe to our CCW Report for the preview edition, and be sure to stay tuned for our analysis after the conference has ended! Another round of GGE on LAWS meetings is currently planned for 2–6 November. 

From 5–6 November, the German Federal Foreign Office will again provide a platform for exploring the implications of new technologies for global security. According to Germany, the two-day virtual event is designed “to build understanding of the closely interconnected progress in spheres such as artificial intelligence, cyber-instruments, new missile technologies, space and quantum computing with the aim of discussing how novel approaches to arms control may contribute to strengthening international security and stability.” This is the second online forum by Germany in its initiative “Rethinking arms control,” with the first one held early April 2020 on autonomous weapons, on which RCW reported.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a steering group member, continues to organise Instagram live Q&A sessions with leading experts in the field. In late August, the Campaign featured Australian national coordinator Matilda Byrne and youth engagement intern Yennie Sayle, talking about universities, killer robots and the outreach they're doing in Australia. This week, the Campaign spoke to Hayley Ramsey-Jones about intersectionality, racism, and killer robots. 

Members of the Campaign also continue to raise awareness about killer robots by widely sharing information about their threat. WILPF is pleased to share translations of its guide to killer robots, now available in both French and Spanish. The Campaign just added a new section to its site on the role of youth in banning killer robots. Human Rights Watch’s recent report, Stopping killer robots: Country positions on banning fully autonomous weapons and retaining human control, published earlier in August, is now also available in French

To ensure that the UN does more to stop killer robots, you can currently participate in a short public survey that will influence the UN’s future programme of work as part of its 75th anniversary initiative.

Arms Trade Treaty “meeting” concludes amidst concerns of transparency and inclusivity

As we reported in the last edition of our newsletter, states parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) were “meeting” via written form for the Sixth Conference of States Parties (CSP6) from 1721 August. This meant that participants submitted written statements and draft decisions were only commented upon in writing. Its unusual format and decision-making process made for a challenging experience of multilateralism, which was reinforced by familiar, and troubling, dynamics around the ATT’s implementation and transparency. CSPs have become increasingly preoccupied with procedural and administrative matters and while some have reached agreement on important points of substance, such as gender-based violence and the arms trade, there is never any accounting for the actual—and very problematic—arms transfers of some states parties. 

For in-depth analysis of CSP6 documentation, as well as broader perspectives on its meeting modalities, be sure to read our analysis in the most recent edition of the ATT Monitor. It is the only comprehensive source of analysis and reporting on the written statements provided as part of CSP6.

In addition to publishing two editions of the ATT Monitor, RCW collected all available written statements, draft decisions, and adopted decisions on its website. 

On 21 September, Canadian civil society will organise in a day of action to protest ongoing weapons transfers from Canada to Saudi Arabia. This follows on a joint NGO letter sent to Prime Minister Trudeau on 17 September—the one year anniversary of Canada’s accession to the ATT. WILPF has signed the letter and RCW’s programme manager will speak during the online event on the 21st to explain how the deal is not compatible with Canada’s efforts at a feminist foreign policy.

Countdown begins for the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons 

The antinuclear community is expecting to reach a huge milestone in the next months: securing the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)! Support for the TPNW continues to grow, with Malta as the most recent signatory state to join the TPNW family on 25 August. 

Malta's signature follows ratifications earlier in August from Ireland, Nigeria, Niue, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, as well as a signature from Mozambique. As of today, the TPNW has 44 ratifications and 84 signatories, which means that only six countries are needed for the entry into force! If you want to take action and contribute to a world without nuclear weapons, you can now sign this global appeal to the nine nuclear-armed states requesting them to join the TPNW.

As we are preparing for the Treaty’s entry into force, WILPF, together with the Arms Control Association, hosted another webinar in its series “Critical NPT issues” on the legal relationship between the TPNW and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). George-Wilhelm Gallhofer of Austria and Anna Ikaeda from Soka Gakkai International discussed how the TPNW will complement and reinforce the NPT, once it’s in force. The next webinar in this series will take place in early October and focus on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the NPT.

The International Day against Nuclear Tests is another stark reminder why nuclear weapons are the most horrendous of all. The International Day is devoted to raising awareness about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions. As noted in our live Tweets and report of the UN online commemorative event against nuclear tests on 26 August, the majority of speakers condemned nuclear testing, highlighting the invariable catastrophic humanitarian and environmental fallout of nuclear weapons. The meeting also emphasised the harmful legacy of racism as a result of nuclear testing on the lands of Indigenous communities. 

As we are working for a nuclear-free world, it is wonderful when our efforts are recognised. We are honoured to share that an international jury of activists and scientists selected RCW’s director Ray Acheson as the laureate in the “solutions” category of the 2020 Nuclear Free Future Award. In this interview, Acheson outlines connections between abolishing nuclear weapons and other movements for feminist peace and racial justice. For more information about the Award and the other 2020 laureates, visit the Nuclear Free Future Award website. (Picture credits: ICAN and Control Arms)

Ireland's webinar on explosive weapons keeps momentum on the process for a political declaration on the protection of civilians

To maintain momentum for a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, the Permanent Mission of Ireland hosted a webinar on 7 September highlighting the humanitarian harms caused by use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) and actions to prevent suffering. The online event included a high-level panel discussion and two additional panels examining issues surrounding the use, impact, and measures that can be taken to address the humanitarian harm caused by EWIPA. The webinar was open to UN member states and civil society organisations, and close to 300 participants joined the discussion. RCW, as part of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), participated in the webinar, and we published a detailed report on our website.

The exchange helped to maintain momentum on the process towards a political declaration on EWIPA. Under the leadership of Ireland, two informal consultations were convened in late 2019 and early 2020; the third consultation, and the originally planned adoption of the declaration in May 2020, had to be postponed due to COVID-19. Ireland informed that it will wait until an in-person consultation is possible again. Due to the current uncertainties, no concrete information on timeline and next steps could be shared, but Ireland expressed determination to maintain an inclusive process.

Many webinar participants stressed that the COVID-19 crisis cannot be a reason to slow down in efforts to prevent armed conflict and to protect civilians. In fact, threats to civilians in armed conflict have been exacerbated due to the crisis, making the impacts of the use of EWIPA even worse than in pre-COVID times. Action on Armed Violence, a member of INEW, outlines the devastating harm caused by EWIPA in 2019, in its latest annual report on deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons around the world, as reported in English language media. This year’s report demonstrates a continued and consistent pattern of harm: when EWIPA were used, on average nine in every ten of the deaths and injuries caused were civilians. In 2019, of those reported harmed by explosive weapons in populated areas, 90 per cent were civilians. This compares to a civilian casualty rate of 13 per cent in other areas where explosive weapons were used. 

Advancing gender in international cyber security

Earlier this year, WILPF and the Association for Progressive Communications co-authored a report looking at the gendered impact of cyber operations and gender inequality in cyber diplomacy. The report was intended to help inform discussions about gender within the UN’s Open-ended Working Group on information and communications technology (ICT) by establishing an evidence base. Throughout September, RCW’s programme manager has been promoting the report’s findings including at a first-ever session on gender at the annual cybersecurity conference of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and to the participants of a global “Women in Cyber” fellowship organised by the governments of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among others. This builds on other recent outreach activities emphasising the importance of multi-stakeholder approaches to the UN cyber security processes, such as through a second OSCE conference session, a UNIDIR organised training session for new disarmament diplomats, and a podcast by Chatham House, that will be available by end of September. 

UN General Assembly meetings and events

The 75th session of the UN General Assembly opened on Tuesday, 15 September. This year, there are still uncertainties around the modalities of many of the usual events and conferences taking place around UNGA, but a number of events and meetings important to disarmament and arms control are confirmed. All of the below events will be webcast by the United Nations.

High-level meeting to commemorate 75 years of the UN

On 21 September, the UN will mark its 75th anniversary with a one-day high-level meeting at the opening of the 75th session of the UNGA on the theme “The future we want, the UN we need: Reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism”.  States will adopt a new political declaration, recommitting themselves to the original goals of the United Nations, including disarmament.

UNGA high-level debate

From 22–29 September, heads of state, foreign ministers, and other high-level officials will deliver video statements to discuss urgent and emerging issues related to international peace and security, in an adapted version of the annual UNGA high-level debate. As it does each year, RCW will monitor the debate for references to disarmament and will post all statements on an index on our website, starting 22 September. 

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

The UNGA has designated 26 September 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. The UN will hold a commemoration of the Day on 2 October 2020, from which RCW will be posting statements and other information online as feasible. This year will once again also provide an excellent opportunity for states to sign or ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

High-level meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

On 1 October, states will meet virtually for a high-level meeting to celebrate the Fourth World Conference on Women, which took place in Beijing in 1995. RCW will monitor the event and publish references to militarism and disarmament.  

UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security

It is still not clear what the UN First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, scheduled to take place from 5 October–5 November 2020 in New York, will look like this year, and if delegates will meet in person or virtually or both. This UNGA Committee focuses on disarmament and international security, producing resolutions and other collaborative initiatives aimed at advancing multilateral work on weapons-related issues. While the modalities of this year’s First Committee session are still uncertain, we are making sure to keep momentum and shed light on a number of critical disarmament topics through a new edition of the annual First Committee Briefing Book

RCW will again publish its weekly First Committee Monitor throughout the session. As in past years, it will provide summaries and analysis of what states are saying on key issues and track progress on resolutions.

Organisations hosting online events in lieu of First Committee side events are encouraged to send us information for posting on our site

Gender and Disarmament Database: Recommendation of the month

In this podcast episode, hosted by the Promise Institute for Human Rights at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, Madeleine Rees, Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom discusses the role of gender in war and peace, and the role of patriarchy in driving conflict. From trafficking of women to trafficking of weapons, from early trans rights law to recognising the hindrance the gender binary poses to equality as well as to peace, Madeleine Rees' analysis calls on us to smash patriarchy, militarism, and capitalism in her conversation with Kate Mackintosh, executive director of the Promise Institute.

Upcoming events

UN conferences and events

International Day of Peace
21 September

Meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS)
21–25 September, Geneva + online

75th UN General Assembly high-level meeting “The future we want, the UN we need: Reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism”
21 September, online

75th UN General Assembly high-level debate
22–29 September, New York + online

UN commemoration of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
2 October, online

UN First Committee on Disarmament and International Security
5 October–5 November, New York + online (TBC) 


Gun amnesty month in Africa
1–30 September, Africa

Webinar series: Visions of feminist peace
14 September–2 October, online

Webinar: Blame it on the algorithm
17 September, online

Africa’s role in regulating autonomous weapons systems
23 September, online

Webinar: Launching a new rights-based framework to assist victims of toxic remnants of war
30 September, online

Humanitarian Disarmament Forum: race and intersectionality
19-21 October, online

Featured news

UN demands all countries enforce arms embargo on Libya

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that all countries enforce the widely violated UN arms embargo on Libya, and to withdraw all mercenaries from the North African nation. The Council also called for political talks and a ceasefire in the war, stressing it has no military solution. The vote was 13–0, with Russia and China abstaining. The resolution’s approval follows a recent report by UN experts monitoring sanctions on Libya that accused its warring parties and their international backers—the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Jordan on one side and Turkey and Qatar on the other—of violating the arms embargo, saying it remains “totally ineffective.” 

US gun exports increase dramatically during the pandemic

US companies exported more than 83,000 military rifles from March through July 2020, more than two and a half times as many as were exported in the same period last year, according to trade data posted by the US International Trade Commission (ITC). This is due to new looser federal rules for exporting firearms. Military rifles, which do not include fully automatic machine guns, were among the categories of firearm exports that transferred from State Department to Commerce Department oversight. 

Group of UN experts on Yemen publish third report highlighting war crimes and the complicity of states providing weapons

The UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen released their third report in September. The Group, established by the Human Rights Council, has found “reasonable grounds to believe that the parties to the conflict have committed and continue to commit serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Some of which may amount to war crimes.” The report expresses strong concern over countries supplying weapons to all parties to the conflict, noting in particular the United States, United Kingdom, Iran, France, and for the first time, Canada. In particular, the Group “believes that [these states] are failing in their responsibilities to ensure respect for IHL, and that some States may be violating their obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty. Furthermore, such support may amount to “aiding and assisting” internationally wrongful acts in contravention of international law.”

US launches missile test just four weeks after the last test

The US Air Force launched a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with one “mock” nuclear warhead. This is the second launch in less than a month, both of which involved missiles with three mock warheads on board. 

Iran: 1,044 centrifuges active as it takes another step back from nuclear deal

Iran has 1,044 centrifuges active at its Fordow uranium enrichment plant, completing a fourth step to reduce its commitments under the nuclear agreement Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran now has more than ten times the amount of enriched uranium permitted under the JCPOA. 

Korea to invest US$2.3 billion to develop drones for military use

South Korea plans to invest US$2.3 billion in the next ten years to develop drones for military use. Under the plan, the country will develop various drones to carry out missions ranging from surveillance to firing grenades and rifles, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration. 

Germany and France call on Russia to investigate Navalny’s Novichok Poisoning

Germany and France called on Russia to cooperate and investigate what happened to Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after laboratories in France and Sweden independently confirmed that he was poisoned with the Soviet-style nerve agent Novichok. The apparent assassination attempt has brought tensions between Russia and Europe to new heights and fuelled calls for sanctions against Russia. Russian president Putin said that the ungrounded accusations are inappropriate. 

Peace organisation launches Environment and Conflict Alert

The Dutch peace organisation PAX has launched the Environment and Conflict Alert, a series of rapid environmental analysis in conflict-affected areas. As part of its work on environment, peace and security, PAX will use satellite imagery and open-source investigation in collaboration with local partners to provide rapid insight into specific environmental dimensions of armed conflicts.

Not too late to contribute: UN #75 Words4Disarmament Youth Challenge

The “UN #75 Words4Disarmament Youth Challenge” invites young people around the world to express what disarmament means to them and their communities in 75 words. It was launched on 12 August (International Youth Day) and is open to young people between the ages of 13 to 29. Winners will be invited to read their entries in self-recorded videos that will be featured on and widely disseminated and shared through the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs’ websites and social media during the Disarmament Week which is celebrated annually from 24 to 30 October. The challenge closes on 26 September—it’s not too late to participate! 

Recommended reading

Documentary: Tony de Brun: We are actually here to save the world, August 2020

Daniel Mack, Carina Solmirano, and Katherine Young (eds.), ATT Monitor Report 2020, Control Arms, August 2020

Sarah Caldwell and Matilda Byrne, “Australia out of the loop: Why we must not delegate decision making in warfare from man to machine,” Safeground, August 2020 

Denise Garcia, “Redirect military budgets to tackle climate change and pandemics,” nature, 20 August 2020

Podcast: Various speakers, “75 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Big Ideas with Paul Barclay, 24 August 2020

Ray Acheson, “Demobilising war,” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom 25 August 2020

Linsey Cottrell, “Mine action land release policies should promote nature-based solutions,” Conflict and Environment Observatory, 25 August 2020

“Humanitarian impacts and risks of use of nuclear weapons,” International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 29 August 2020

Jennifer Dathan, “Explosive violence monitor 2019,” Action on Armed Violence, 4 September 2020

Citizens on Cyberattacks, Digital Peace Now, 16 September 2020

“Why won’t the UK protect civilians from unexploded bombs?” Article 36, 19 September 2020

“Stay in command, podcast series about killer robots,” Safe Ground, September 2020

Martin Pfeiffer, “Remembering an incomplete nuclear history,” Outrider Foundation, September 2020 

People Not War, Campaign Against Arms Trade, September 2020