Report on the second week at the UN negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons

New York 26-30 June 2017

The second week of the negotiations for a Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons started with the publication on June 27th of the second draft of the Treaty (now called a “Treaty” and no more a “Convention”.) The 130 states in the room are now actively negotiating long hours in small or big committees in order to keep open the possibility to finalize a good text by June 7th.

Although some articles still need to be enhanced, the whole 2nd version goes in a good direction with strengthening the language, some more clarity on the obligations and a longer and stronger preamble which gives a good background of the treaty spirit.

It is now reflecting most of what has been important for civil society as a background for the prohibition of the worst weapons ever:

  • The concerns about the humanitarian, environmental, gender, and socio economic impact, including the waste of funds spent in their production.
  • The recognition of the unacceptable harm caused to the victims, including indigenous people and Hibakusha
  • The consistence with other treaties, international law and IHL and the reaffirmation of Article VI of the NPT.

One can still identify a tension in the text, which is illustrated in the plenary sessions by some states like Nederlands using arguments coming from the Cold War era and the NPT vocabulary, and the language of others – the vast majority-  who are promoting a vision based on human security and the humanitarian concerns.

But the majority of states from all continents, the International Council of the Red Cross (ICRC), experts and lawyers, campaigners and the whole civil society coordinated by ICAN   ( #nuclearban) are pushing in the same direction for the strongest and clearest treaty as possible.

The more problematic provisions under discussion are related to crucial issues. How would a nuclear weapon possessor state join the treaty? Could they join the treaty while getting rid of their weapons “ as soon as possible”? This seems much to vague! The draft also authorizes  States to join after they would have destroy their weapons, but except a “cooperation with IAEA”, the provisions to prove that they have really destroyed the weapons and that the facilities to produce them have been destroyed still need to be clearly stated.

So need the provisions in the General obligations which requires more clarity to include a prohibition on “military preparation and planning for use” and on the transit of nuclear weapons.  But the prohibition of assistance in any activities already prohibited by the treaty can lead to new campaigning and boost interest over the financing or the transit of NW.

Other articles remain problematic, like the positive obligations related to victim assistance and environmental remediation which are too weak to address the terrible situation of the people and the environment that have already been exposed to nuclear explosions. But it should also keep the possibilities for those workers or neighbors of nuclear weapons facility, and all those along the nuclear chain to be included in the treaty with strong provisions for solidarity and assistance.

Discussions are heating up, the President, Mrs Elayne Whyte has choosen to work with little groups dedicated to some articles of the Treaty and meet from times to times for exchanging in plenary sessions where civil society can participate, but the works are now not anymore recorded and broadcasted.

Even if this is frustrating for those that can’t be in New York, it can also be seen by delegates as a guarantee to give them a little bit more freedom to achieve a strong Treaty.

The boycott of the nuclear weapons states and their allies has leant to a form of boycott from the media. The ban treaty negotiations have very little media coverage. It is a pity when one understands the historical move that the world is undertaking here but it has in a way helped this whole humanitarian initiative to grow in the shade of the humanitarian concerns, and this whole process is now almost ready to deliver a global treaty!

On Wednesday 28th, IPB organized a side event to “overcome the controversies, chaired by IALANA Executive Director Lucas Wirl (Germany), with the participation of Sergio Duarte, (Former High UN representative for disarmament), Daniel Högsta, (ICAN coordinator), Elizabeth Minor (Article 36) and Arielle Denis (IPB)

They looked over the treaty text and the current discussions and evoked about the role of civil society which has been crucial so far for making the treaty happen, and which will have once the text is adopted the main work to make sure it drives the world toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

IPB will be present up to July 7th and will organize more events. Lucas Wirl is taking over from Arielle Denis and will share the last developments on line. Stay tuned!




Sergio Duarte on the UN negotiations for a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons leading to their total elimination

At an IPB side event on “How to find common ground for the ban treaty and how can civil society and peace movements contribute” at the UN negotiations for a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, former UN High Level Representative for Disarmament, Sergio Duarte presented the following speech:

I am grateful to IPB for this opportunity to participate in this discussion on the current negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. I was asked to present a global view on the process and compare it with other disarmament processes. Given the constraints of time, let me make some quick comments on the results so far of the current negotiation process. There seems to be considerable convergence of views on many aspects of the future instrument.

I think it is fair to say that overall the conduct of business by President Elayne Whyte-Gómez has been quite satisfactory. The debate over the past week has been intense and constructive. The resulting second draft circulated yesterday seems to reflect accurately most of the proposals and observations made. I would make the following general remarks on the new draft:

  • The change of the order of the first few paragraphs of the Preamble gave prominence to the “elimination” of nuclear weapons and to the risks and consequences resulting from their existence and use. In mentioning the ethical imperative of nuclear disarmament, it quotes former UNSG Ban Ki-Moon about the “global public good” and adequately related it to “national and collective security interests”. All States are entitled to security, not just those that possess or are protected by nuclear weapons.
  • Stress was given to the suffering and harm resulting from the use and to the impact of tests (nuclear activities) on indigenous peoples;
  • The need to comply with the principles and rules of IHL is reaffirmed;
  • Mentions the principles of Charter of the UN regarding relations among States and recalls Resolution no. 1 of 1946;
  • Expresses concern about the slow pace of nuclear disarmament and the importance of a legally binding prohibition, as well as the need to achieve GCD;
  • Reaffirms the ICJ 1996 decision on the obligation to pursue negotiations;
  • Reaffirms the vital role of implementation of the NTP, recognizes the vital importance of the CTBT and the contribution of NWFZs;
  • Emphasizes the inalienable right of Parties to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes;
  • Recognizes the need to strengthen participation of women in nuclear disarmament;
  • Finally stresses the role of public conscience and the efforts of the Red Cross, international organizations, NGOs in furthering the principles of humanity evidenced in the call for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

There were constructive changes, but some of the operative paragraphs need further discussion.

  • Core prohibitions are very clear and unchanged from the previous daft;
  • The procedure for declarations by Parties are now clearer. The same can be said of the measures to eliminate nuclear weapons. Need to clarify some points, for example what “programmes” mean in this context);
  • There is more flexibility in the provisions regarding verification. (Perhaps greater clarity about the “competent international authority” is required);
  • Order of the articles on implementation and victim assistance reversed, without change;
  • No change in provisions on cooperation;
  • Article on meetings of States parties now list the matters that can be considered;
  • Several changes on articles on amendments; participation of civil society and their proposals are now included;
  • The article on relations with other agreements is better formulated now.

This brings me to the comparison with other disarmament processes. It must be stressed that no previous international agreement on nuclear weapons ever established a clear, legally binding obligation to disarm. Since the start of the nuclear age, all agreements have aimed at preventing proliferation. Progress was made in that direction, particularly with the NPT, the CTBT and the NWFZs.  Nuclear weapon States have been trying to interpret such agreements as legitimizing their exclusive possession of nuclear weapons. 71 years after the adoption of Resolution No. 1, the current negotiation, however, is the first serious attempt to establish a legally binding, irreversible and verified obligation to take effective measures to eliminate nuclear weapons. The NPT and customary international law require all nations – not just those that possess nuclear weapons – to negotiate for nuclear disarmament. The ban treaty will provide a solid foundation for future multilateral action.

I am sure that in the coming week there will be important comments and proposals and that different States and opinion groups will try to have their views reflected in the final product. In my view this final product must respond to the criteria needed for its effectiveness: it must be clear, simple, and provide for wide inclusiveness.

Regardless of the opposition and diffidence of the nuclear-armed nations, and although, as I said, further discussion is needed on some points, I have no doubt that we will adopt a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons by consensus on July 7.  We are perfectly aware that this Treaty will not immediately halt nuclear weapons development or diminish the threat that current nuclear weapon arsenals pose to all humanity but it is an important step in the right direction. It inscribes into positive international law a repudiation of nuclear weapons and establishes a clear path toward their elimination.

Once adopted, the impact and effectiveness of this Treaty will depend essentially from its wide acceptance by States and the continuing and active support of civil society, particularly in those States that possess nuclear weapons and their allies. This will take time and considerable effort. In any case, the Treaty is a powerful statement of the will of the majority international community and public opinion worldwide to outlaw the most cruel and indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction ever devised. We are all committed to its success and its universalization.

Download the speech here: IPB – Side event 28-06-2017_Sergio Duarte