Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: A Short but Substantive Month

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

Panelists speak at ICAN’s Paris Forum.
Credit: Orel Kichigai|ICAN, 2020

February brought developments across the spectrum of humanitarian disarmament issues. It featured multilateral meetings, diplomatic consultations, and campaigner gatherings as well as important policy developments. In case you missed it:

  • The first informal preparatory meeting for the Arms Trade Treaty’s Sixth Conference of States Parties (CSP6) took place in Geneva from February 4-7. Working groups on treaty implementation, transparency and reporting, and universalization discussed arms transfer policy and practice. But proponents of humanitarian disarmament expressed concerned that the meeting largely overlooked the CSP5’s decisions on gender and gender-based violence, and that technical discussions overshadowed the humanitarian motivations of the treaty. Costa Rica urged, “We need to redouble our efforts to keep the human being at the centre of our attention.” For a more in-depth report of the meeting, see Reaching Critical Will’s ATT Newsletter.
  • Ireland convened the second round of consultations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Geneva on February 10. While delegates generally agreed that Ireland’s draft elements of a declaration provided a good basis for further discussions, they offered suggestions for strengthening it. In particular, many states, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and nongovernmental organizations called for a clearer commitment to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. A minority of states sought to shift the focus of the declaration from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas to the protection of civilians in urban warfare, and argued that the declaration should address indiscriminate use rather than the well documented indiscriminate effects of explosive weapons. For more detailed analysis of the consultations, see the reports from the International Network on Explosive Weapons and Reaching Critical Will.  
  • On February 14-15, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) organized the Paris Forum: How to Ban Bombs and Influence People, which brought together campaigners, other activists, and students to engage in discussions about movement building and creating lasting political change. Also in February, Belize signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and Barcelona joined the ICAN Cities Appeal calling on other countries to join the treaty.
  • In a joint statement released February 20, at least 50 US-based nongovernmental organizations condemned the Trump administration’s new policy allowing the United States to use antipersonnel landmines anywhere in the world. The new policy comes almost 30 years after the US last used antipersonnel landmines and more than 20 years after it last produced them, and in spite of the fact that 164 countries, including all other NATO members, have joined the Mine Ban Treaty. For more information on the new policy, see Human Rights Watch’s Q&A and statement calling for the policy to be reversed.
  • Brazil hosted a symposium on autonomous weapons systems in Rio de Janeiro on February 20. Designed to inform Convention on Conventional Weapons discussions on the topic, the symposium featured speakers from governments, international organizations, and civil society, who addressed human-machine interaction, international law, and military issues.
  • On February 24, the US Department of Defense announced that it had adopted ethical principles for the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Its five principles call for AI use to be responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable, and governable.
  • The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots held its second global meeting from February 26-28. More than 100 campaigners from around the world gathered in Buenos Aires to discuss the dangers of fully autonomous weapons, the need for new international law, the proposed elements of a new treaty, and strategies for engaging with governments and the public to achieve a preemptive ban. In an inspirational public event, disarmament advocates, AI engineers, tech workers, ethicists, peace activists, and youth group representatives explained why they support a ban on killer robots.

The humanitarian disarmament calendar in March will be headlined by the next round of consultations on the political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas. A new draft text is expected before the meeting opens in Geneva on March 23.