June E-News

As WILPF is dedicated to building a peaceful, equal, just world, we cannot stay silent about the targeted killings of Black people, acts which are rooted in and emboldened by white supremacy and structural racism, especially as people are in the streets calling for those with a platform to speak up. 

Without justice, there can be no peace or freedom. The white supremacist patriarchy on which the US has been founded has for generations looted and murdered Black lives, Black communities, and Black futures, bolstered by leaders and institutions. 

This system that dehumanises Black people is inextricable from the structures and mindset of the white supremacist structures that have imposed slavery, colonialism, war, invasion, weapons testing, covert operations, the development of military bases, and contributed to the destruction of Black and brown communities in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. 

As protests erupted across the United States in response to the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, heavily militarised police forces cracked down violently against everyone in the streets. The US spends about $100 billion annually on policing and an additional $80 billion on incarceration. In the midst of COVID-19 related budget cuts, many cities are looking to slash education, health care, housing, and other social services while police forces remain unscathed. Many police departments across the country are heavily militarised with equipment and training from the US military. 

Militarisation of the police only leads to one thing: violence. As WILPF’s Disarmament Programme Director has noted in a recent blog post, there is no room for militarisation as a means to de-escalation of conflict or resolution of grievances. When governments and police forces decide to go down this road, they take an active stance toward violence. 

Since its founding in 1915, WILPF has challenged and spoken out against militarism. The increasingly militarised, violent response of the US government and certain other state or local authorities and police forces to the legitimate human rights objectives and concerns of citizens is unacceptable. 

As WILPF has been urging through its blog series during the COVID-19 crisis, a fundamental reframing of security, one that dismantles the structures of capitalism, racism, militarism, and patriarchy, is essential for building an equitable future of well-being and care for all. This will include, as Black activists have long-demanded, defunding, disarming, and demilitarising police, and dismantling the system of white supremacy. 

The above is extracted from a statement by the WILPF International Secretariat. 

In this edition

Structural racism, police brutality, and the abolition of the carceral system 

The following is extracted from one of Ray Acheson’s articles for WILPF’s blog series and from some of her forthcoming articles: 

As protests erupted across the United States in response to the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, heavily militarised police forces cracked down violently against everyone in the streets. The violence moved Amnesty International to declare, “The U.S. police across the country are failing their obligations under international law to respect and facilitate the right to peaceful protest, exacerbating a tense situation and endangering the lives of protesters." 

The police literally cracking down on protestors on the streets shows in living colour—in bruises and blood—what happens when governments invest in militarism over human well-being. It also shows the legacy of white supremacy embedded within institutions of coercive state power designed and funded to “maintain order” through violent repression of the people. 

In response, people across the United States have been demanding the defunding and abolition of the police. These calls are rooted in decades of theorising and organising in particular by Black feminists. And progress is already underway: In Minneapolis, the city council voted to dismantle and abolish the police department and replace it with a new system of community-led safety mechanisms. In San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, mayors and city councillors have started discussing or committed to cut police budgets. 

But much more remains to be done. Cutting police budgets is an important step that needs to be followed up with other moves toward the abolition the carceral system, including police and prisons. 8toabolition.org has set out clear actions towards this end. At the same time that we dismantle the carceral system, we also need to invest in community-based alternative mechanisms for care and transformative justice. 

It’s also important to recognise the ways in which the US carceral system is connected to its wars, interventions, and occupations abroad, its border imperialism, and its investments in weapons and militarism at the expense of human well-being. These topics will be addressed in upcoming blogs in the WILPF series. 

Anti-nuclear community makes strong case for the diversion of nuclear weapons spending 

As the world has been engulfed in the COVID-19 pandemic, nuclear weapon modernisation has continued apace. The pandemic of nuclear weapons wastes precious resources and puts as all at risk. The new edition of RCW’s annual Assuring Destruction Forever: 2020 edition outlines in great detail the nuclear weapon modernisation programmes of the nuclear-armed states. Each chapter has been prepared by experts on national nuclear weapon programmes

To launch the report and discuss nuclear weapon modernisation with an international audience, WILPF co-hosted a webinar with the Arms Control Association on the “new nuclear arms race”. Future webinars in the monthly series—entitled “Critical nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) issues”will address steps to fulfill Article VI of the NPT; how the TPNW complements the NPT; the NPT and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); and the future of New START and multilateral disarmament. Watch this space to receive information about dates and times in the coming weeks! 

The continued waste of unimaginable resources on nuclear weapons can be disheartening. However, change is possible, and we are seeing so many good things happening as well! For example, one of the five largest banks worldwide, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) has updated its  policy to exclude the financing of nuclear weapons production. While the practical impact of the policy could be improved by excluding companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons as a whole, this is a major step into the right direction for protecting humanity and the planet.  

And we’ve had more encouraging news in the past few weeks: two new states have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). With Lesotho ratifying on 6 June and Belize on 19 May, we only need twelve more ratifications for the Treaty to enter into force!  

The antinuclear community continues to work tirelessly to keep the good news coming. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which WILPF is a steering group member, has recently launched the guide Let's be realists: Eleven answers to common questions and comments about nuclear  weapons. It includes witty and fact-packed answers to push back on the most common misconceptions we often get from sceptics.  

If you are 25 years or younger and are passionate about nuclear disarmament, you can now apply by 26 June to the 2020 Hiroshima - ICAN Academy. The Academy is an opportunity for young professionals, students, and budding activists to learn everything they need to know to become the next generation of leaders in nuclear disarmament by learning from some of the most inspiring voices in the field. 

UN’s cyber working group resumes work—behind closed doors 

The UN’s Open-ended working group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security will resume its work in June with three, three-hour long virtual informal consultations on 15, 17, and 19 June. The consultations are a way to make up for time lost by the cancellation of two earlier rounds of planned informal consultations but unlike those meetings, these ones will not be open or accessible to civil society or the public, despite earlier meetings having been webcast. Civil society access to the OEWG has been a fraught issue since the beginning as stakeholders without ECOSOC accreditation were denied access to its first two formal meetings.  

The way ahead for the OEWG process has changed as well, as its final, substantive session was scheduled for July 2020 but cannot be physically convened due to the COVID-19 health pandemic. Its Chair, Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland, has proposed to member states that this session be postponed until spring 2021 and to convene more virtual informal consultations in the interim, in which states can offer input to the pre-draft of the Group’s final report, which needs to be agreed at its final session. The outcome of the Chair's proposal has not been announced yet. This new timeline means that the OEWG will conclude work roughly around the same time as the UN’s other body on cybersecurity matters, a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). The establishment of the two bodies with very similar mandates was a source of tension and politicisation during the 2018 UNGA First Committee; the importance of their work and recommendations being mutually reinforcing has been a stated priority of many countries. 

Written inputs to the OEWG from member states and civil society organisations are available on the official OEWG website, while the RCW website hosts formal documents, including versions of the pre-draft report, and statements delivered at earlier meetings as well as our report, the Cyber Peace & Security Monitor. In its written reactions to the OEWG pre-draft report, WILPF is focusing on the areas of gender and human centric approaches to security; cyber peace and challenging the militarisation of cyberspace; multi-stakeholder access to OEWG meetings; and accountability for state actions.  

In May RCW published a summary of a recent UN Security Council Arria-formula meeting on cyber issues, in which statements focused heavily on the huge spike in cyber crime during the health pandemic, and that a growing number of cyber operations are targeting medical facilities, or impersonating health authorities, in order to spread false information about the coronavirus.  

Canada-wide action calls on government to #StopArmingSaudi 

A broad coalition of civil society organisations and concerned individuals called on the Canadian government last week to stop its multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. A protest was organised on 11 June 2020 in London, Ontario, outside of General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada factory where light armoured vehicles (LAVs) are manufactured, before being shipped to Saudi Arabia. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada not only lifted its moratorium on issuing arms exports for weapons destined for Saudi Arabia, days after endorsing the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, but also continued to manufacture the LAVs under the label of an “essential service”. 

Simultaneous demonstrations took place in multiple Canadian cities at the same time, and a virtual protest brought together several hundred people to hear from a diverse line-up of speakers while also linking into the live actions on the ground. Speakers highlighted that Canadian arms exports just don’t line up with legal commitments under the Arms Trade Treaty, its national arms export policy, or moves toward adopting a feminist foreign policy. Some also stressed that ending arms exports doesn’t have to mean the loss of jobs and instead encouraged a conversion of arms industries to socially useful production.  

Saudi Arabia has used the LAVs to suppress peaceful protests and there is mounting evidence that Canadian-made LAVs are being deployed in the war in Yemen. It has been contested and challenged by Canadian civil society for several years and aspects of the large deal are coming under increased scrutiny, including by media. 

WILPF partner Rasha Jarhum spoke to the humanitarian impact of the war in Yemen and its disproportionate impact on women. WILPF member Tamara Lorincz emphasised that the LAVs are bad for people, but also the planet because of their environmental impacts. RCW programme manager Allison Pytlak outlined how the Saudi deal is fundamentally incompatible with the feminist foreign policy that Canada is developing and undermines its work to advance gender perspectives elsewhere in disarmament forums.  

The action was organised by Amnesty International Canada, Amnistie internationale Canada francophone, Oxfam Canada, Project Ploughshares, the Council of Canadians, Labour Against the Arms Trade, People for Peace London, and WILPF. It received endorsements from many others including Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, a WILPF partner, and the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents more than three million works across Canada. 

WILPF is preparing a submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, under which Canada is up for review, in which it will highlight how Canadian arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Nigeria impact the rights of the child.

UN Security Council discusses but fails to enact real protection of civilians 

On 27 May 2020, the UN Security Council met virtually for an open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. This year’s debate took place against a backdrop in which, over the past year, at least 20,000 civilians were killed or injured in conflict-affected countries; displacement has continued to rise to over 70 million people globally; and the world faces a dual economic and public health crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid all of this sits the UN Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire, for which many governments and some non-state armed groups have indicated rhetorical support, but that has had little practical effect. In part, this is because many countries, including many of those in the UN Security Council, continue to arm or lift moratoriums on weapons trading, which undermines efforts in drawing down any conflicts. 

UN Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres; Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee Red Cross (ICRC); and former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, briefed the Council on various issues, after which Council members delivered statements outlining national concerns and priorities. 

RCW published a short analysis of some of WILPF’s key areas of concern, including on gender-based violence and feminist perspectives, also drawing from WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security programme. See the sections below on explosive weapons, and killer robots, respectively, for more detailed analysis of the Council’s references to these topics. 

Explosive weapons in populated areas 

In his  report  published ahead of the UN Security Council debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, UNSG Guterres reiterated his concern with the use of  explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). He highlighted that 90 per cent of people killed by explosive weapons used in towns, cities, and villages are civilians. The use of EWIPA also has  reverberating effects, impacting water, sanitation, health care, education, and psychological wellbeing. The use of EWIPA also  leaves behind catastrophic environmental impacts, as noted in a recent report from PAX, which further exacerbates civilian suffering. 

In their briefings to the Council, the UNSG and ICRC President both reiterated their call for states to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas and to support the process, led by Ireland, for a political declaration to address the humanitarian suffering caused by the use of EWIPA.  

Ahead of the debate, the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW),          of which WILPF is a steering group member, issued a briefing paper calling on states to acknowledge harm caused by EWIPA, endorse the UNSG and ICRC’s recommendations, and express support for the political declaration. INEW has made it clear that addressing only the      “indiscriminate use” of explosive weapons, as proposed by a few states, and reiterated by France in the debate, is insufficient to mitigate civilian harm and suffering and that states need to be willing to make real changes to their conduct in order to save lives. 

At the margins of the 2020 ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs segment, INEW, the ICRC, Humanity & Inclusion (HI), as well as the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), along with seven state-sponsors, discussed the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and the practical actions states and other actors can take now and in the future to address the short and long-term harm to civilians. At the side event, HI also launched its new report Death Sentence to Civilians: The Long-Term Impact of Explosive Weapons in populated areas in Yemen. 

Other member organisations of INEW have also been busy to mobilise even stronger support for the political declaration. Human Rights Watch recently released a new “Questions and Answers” on the declaration, and also published a  press release  drawing attention to the UNSC debate. 

Stop killer robots to protect civilians 

At the UNSC debate on the Protection of Civilians, the UNSG also urged greater global attention to “address the legal, moral and ethical implications posed by the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems.” He went beyond his  Protection of Civilian report findings  by reiterating his "deep conviction that machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement much be prohibited by international law.” 

Like so many other meetings, the June CCW meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS) has been postponed. But the CCW GGE Chair has asked states to submit written commentaries on the eleven guiding principles. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which WILPF is a steering group member, made a submission in which it recommends states to use their CCW commentaries to: 1) Identify factors to help determine the necessary quality and extent of human control over weapons systems and the use of force; and to 2) Express their preferred normative framework and its basic content, be it a legally binding ban instrument or another form of regulation.  

While we are awaiting the UN meeting to take place, the Campaign is keeping busy mobilising for the ban, and informing the public. Part of this effort was a recent interactive Q&A session on Instagram with the Campaign’s Director, Mary Wareham. 

The Campaign’s efforts indeed are making waves. In recognition of its impact, the Campaign has been awarded the Peace Prize of the City of Ypres, Belgium. More than 2,000 people voted of which 90 per cent were younger than 18 years old. Children across Belgium have been studying the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots since it was shortlisted​ for the Ypres Prize last year and participated in voting. This is a clear message from the next generation, and gives us all hope. The Ypres Prize also provides a strong signal of support to the goal of launching negotiations on a new international ban treaty to retain meaningful human control over the use of force.  

Civil society action on conventional arms control continues despite postponed UN meetings 

The continued global health crisis means that the seventh Biennial Meeting of States  (BMS7) of the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (UNPoA), originally scheduled to take place from 15–19 June, will be postponed to 2021. 

Despite this setback, civil society continues to advocate for small arms control. From 5-7 June, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), along with other civil society organisations, promoted the yearly Wear Orange Against Gun Violence campaign, which originated in the United States. The campaign honours the memory of those who have lost their lives and calls for a future free of gun violence.  

To keep the issue of SALW control high on the agenda, we have updated RCW’s factsheet on SALW with detailed information about their impacts, related international and regional instruments that seek to regulate SALW proliferation, as well as recommendations for further reading and information sources 

While details are forthcoming, it is anticipated that the Sixth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty will take place as scheduled in August, although possibly in a mixed (virtual and in-person) format. 

WILPF’s submission to the CEDAW Committee on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration 

The Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) is crafting a general recommendation on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration. It put out a  call  for comments on its first draft of the general recommendation. WILPF provided comments and drafting recommendations  with regard to the root causes of trafficking, including neoliberalism and macro-economic reform policies; militarism, foreign military bases, and arms transfers; states’ extraterritorial human rights obligations, and states’ due diligence obligations in relation to acts or omissions by companies. We hope these suggestions are taken into consideration as the CEDAW Committee continues its work.  

RCW Gender and Disarmament Database: Recommendation of the month 

The most recent issue of the journal Global Responsibility to Protect features chapters shedding light on different aspects of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Each chapter is drafted by leading experts in the field, including by RCW’s own Ray Acheson and Allison Pytlak. Ray’s article explains gender-based violence (GBV) and its relationship with the international arms trade, and discusses how this provision has been used—or not used—since the Treaty’s adoption in 2013. She encourages states, arms producers, lawyers, and activists to work to ensure that human lives and wellbeing are prioritised over profits as an imperative to realising the ATT’s objective and purpose, and to ensuring respect for the rule of law and international law. Allison’s article takes a critical look at the  ATT meeting cycle, and identifies the inability of states parties to use the meetings to address matters of compliance with the  ATT’s prohibition and risk assessment requirements. Amongst others, the article discusses outcomes relevant to the prevention of GBV and gender diversity. All articles contained in Volume 12, Issue 2, are available to read for free until 1 August! 

Upcoming events 

Informal virtual meeting of the UN OEWG on ICTs 
15-19 June, online 

Taking stock of action on the illicit small arms trade 
15-26 June, online 

The legacy of nuclear testing in the Pacific 
18 June, online 

The flow of U.S. guns and violence against women in Mexico and Central America 
25 June, online 

2020 CCW Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems 
10–14 August, Geneva, Switzerland 

Sixth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty 
17–21 August, Genva, Switzerland 

Featured news

US administration discusses resumption of first nuclear tests in decades 

The US administration has discussed whether to conduct the first US nuclear test explosion since 1992. This would reverse a decades-long moratorium on such actions. The matter came up following accusations from administration officials that Russia and China are conducting low-yield nuclear testsan assertion that has not been substantiated by publicly available evidence and that both countries have denied.  

US National Security Archives document reveals: the US can unilaterally decide over use of its nuclear weapons on European soil 

A formerly ‘top secret’ document from 1961, made public by the American National Security Archive, shows that the United States could unilaterally decide to use its nuclear weapons hosted in European countries. When the agreement to store US nuclear weapons on European soil was negotiated, countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Germany failed to enforce their right of approval in using these weapons. 

Petition requests Minnesota State Board of Investments to divest from Israel’s largest weapons company 

The US-based organisation CODEPINK has launched a petition to request Minnesota’s Governor to divest his states public retirement funds from a company whose drones are used during the protests that have been erupting after George Floyd’s murder. The Minnesota State Board of Investments holds around 10,000 shares ($1.2 million) in Israel’s largest weapons company, and the world’s largest exporter of drones, Elbit Systems.  

Tech firms quit selling facial recognition technology over increasing concerns of mass surveillance and racial profiling 

Ongoing protests responding to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer have sparked closer scrutiny over racial injustice and the use of police technology. As a result, various big tech firms, including IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft have announced to stop selling facial recognition technology to the police. Microsoft said it will not sell the controversial technology to police departments until there is a federal law regulating it. IBM, that had earlier sought to improve the accuracy of their face-scanning software afterresearch found racial and gender disparities, has now also stopped building and selling facial recognition software. However, it is important to note that Microsoft still has a contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

US bipartisan push requests cutting off police access to military-style gear 
Both main parties in US Congress have begun a new push to shut down a Pentagon programme that transfers military weaponry to local law enforcement departments as bipartisan urgency builds to address the excessive use of force and the killings of unarmed Black people by the police. Lawmakers are scrutinising the Defense Department initiative that provides police departments with equipment such as bayonets and grenade launchers. The move comes after several nights when officers wearing riot gear have been documented using pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders, and journalists. 

Efforts by UK and Scottish politicians to stop arms transfers to US 

The Scottish Parliament has successfully voted for the immediate suspension of exports of riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets to the United States (US) in light of continued police brutality towards ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. In the United Kingdom, the Labour party has called on the government to also suspend the sale of riot control equipment to the US and review whether any British-made teargas or crowd control guns were being used against demonstrators across the United States.  

Investors and NGOs urge Norwegian pension fund to divest from German defence group 

A group of institutional investors and non-governmental organisatins (NGOs) urge the Norwegian government Pension Fund Global to divest from German defence group Rheinmetall. In their letter, they call on the sovereign wealth fund to reconsider its investment in Rheinmetall, which supplies bombs to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen, and to enter into a critical dialogue with the company on its arms export practices.  

New series on the BWC in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic 
Following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BioWeapons Prevention Project has launched a new series of reports. They explore lessons to be learned from past activities of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and discussions for responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and examines impacts of the pandemic on BWC activities.  

Recommended reading 

Various authors,WILPF blog series on COVID-19, March–June 2020 

Dr Vincent Boulanin et al., Limits on autonomy in weapon systems: Identifying practical elements of human control, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), June 2020 

Tear gas: An investigation, Amnesty International, June 2020 

Adalmiina Erkkola and Grace Armstrong, Down the green feminist road: Our path to environmental peace, WILPF, June 2020 

Cynthia Enloe, COVID:19: Who is skilled and who is unskilled in this pandemic moment?, WILPF, 8 June 2020 

David Mackenzie, Scots and Germans make common cause on nuclear weapons, Bella Caledonia, 5 June 2020 

Nela Porobić Isaković, COVID-19: Making our economy green and feminist, WILPF, 4 June 2020 

Ray Acheson, COVID-19: Dismantling structural racism and disarming, demilitarising, and defunding police to rebuild our communities, WILPF, 2 June 2020 

Becky Alexis-Martin, Trump is looking to restart nuclear tests for the first time in 28 years, and we should all be worried, The Independent, 2 June 2020 

Maya Dukmasova, The Reader guide to police abolition, The Reader, 29 May 2020 

Roos Boer and Wim Zwijnenburg, Exploring environmental harm from explosive weapons in populated areas, PAX, 28 May 2020 

Anne McClintock, Monster: A fugue in fire and ice, Oceans in Transformation, e-flux architecture 

Mark Lowcock, Izumi Nakamitsu and Robert Mardini, Opinion: Conflict and Covid are a deadly mix, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 27 May 2020 

Elizabeth Minor, Protecting civilians as an international policy agenda–A snapshot from 2019, Article 36, 27 May 2020 

Digital diplomacy dos and don’ts, Humanitarian Disarmament, 26 May 2020 

Face 2 Face with Alicia Sanders Zakre from ICAN, Pressenza, 26 May 2020 

Madeleine Rees, COVID-19: A quantum leap to surface the solutions, WILPF, 22 May 2020 

Ray Acheson, COVID-19: The pandemic of nuclear weapons, WILPF, 18 May 2020 

Death sentence to civilians: The long-term impact of explosive weapons in populated areas, Humanity & Inclusion, May 2020 

Sarah Kenny Werner and Elena B. Stavrevska, Where are the words? The disappearance of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in the language of country-specific UN Security Council resolutions, WILPF and the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security, May 2020 

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas: The effect of airstrikes, shelling and IEDs on health care and the COVID-19 health response in March and April 2020, Aid Security and COVID-19, Bulletin 6, Insecurity Insight, May 2020