Reflection and Action on Humanitarian Disarmament

Jeff Abramson, Forum on the Arms Trade, and Bonnie Docherty, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative, Harvard Law School

Civil society advocates reflected on and spotlighted the humanitarian approach to disarmament during internal and UN meetings in New York this October.

About 80 representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) gathered for the seventh annual Humanitarian Disarmament Forum on October 13-14. Participants examined opportunities and challenges they all face and focused on exploring the wide range of tools available to the humanitarian disarmament community.

Beyond the Forum, many campaigners engaged in intense advocacy at meetings of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. For the first time, NGOs presented a joint statement on humanitarian disarmament in order to frame the interventions on individual issues that followed. Nineteen global coalitions and organizations endorsed the overarching statement, which was read by Alma Al-Osta of Humanity & Inclusion.

HD forum
Credit: Forum on the Arms Trade, 2018

2018 Humanitarian Disarmament Forum: Humanitarian Disarmament Tools

To facilitate new connections among humanitarian disarmament advocates, the Forum opened by asking participants to share inspirational items, ranging from photos to quotations to souvenirs of past successes. The first panel set the stage for cross-cutting discussions and introduced the new website, which seeks to raise awareness about this approach to disarmament. The site emerged from the conference “Humanitarian Disarmament: The Way Ahead,” organized in March by Harvard Law School’s Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative (ACCPI).

Over the course of the two-day Forum, participants discussed an eclectic mix of existing and possible strategies to advance their work. They considered how to take advantage of the UN Secretary General’s Agenda on Disarmament as well as other opportunities involving the United Nations. They addressed recent efforts to advance initiatives related to gender. Participants also examined ways to amplify the voices of those impacted by armed violence and committed to doing more on this front in the future. A special training delved into how campaigns and organizations can implement best practices related to safeguarding.

Through panel discussions and breakout groups, Forum participants identified and closely examined a range of humanitarian disarmament tools. Existing treaties along with campaigns calling for new norms provide a strong foundation for humanitarian disarmament work. In addition, participants saw the value in:

  • Advocating for divestment,
  • Lobbying for the establishment of “humanitarian disarmament cities,”
  • Using human rights as an entry point to humanitarian disarmament,
  • Increasing the voice and leadership role of local and national advocates,
  • Raising awareness of the environmental impacts of conflict and promoting measures to address them, and
  • Identifying themselves and their campaigns as part of the global humanitarian disarmament effort.

Over the course of the weekend, six campaigns provided short “lightning” updates on the recent accomplishments, their work ahead, and the challenges they face. Because the campaigns are at different stages of the disarmament process, the updates underscored the need to tailor strategies to meet their changing needs.

At the conclusion of the meeting, participants reflected on what they would take away from this year’s gathering. A common refrain was appreciation for the openness and camaraderie of the humanitarian disarmament community as well as the effectiveness of the humanitarian approach to addressing arms-inflicted harm.

The forum on the Arms Trade and the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) organized this year’s Forum, with financial support from Human Rights Watch, Humanity & Inclusion, and PAX.