Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Progress Despite Postponements during the Pandemic

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

The past month has witnessed some major disruptions to planned events and changes to modes of working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, as showcased by the previous Disarmament Dialogue blog post, the humanitarian disarmament community has come together and found ways to continue their work. In case you missed it: 

ICAN celebrates Namibia’s ratification of TPNW. Credit: ICAN, 2020
  • The latest round of consultations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, originally scheduled for the end of March, was postponed. Ireland circulated a new draft of the declaration on March 17, however, and delegations have until May 1 to submit their comments. Ireland expects to circulate another draft before in-person negotiations take place.
  • The Second Informal Preparatory Meeting to the Sixth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, originally scheduled for mid-April, was cancelled on March 18. The working groups will continue their work online in the intersessional period. 
  • On March 20, Namibia became the 36th state to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), bringing the treaty one step closer to entry into force. 
  • Organizations that oppose and have legally challenged European exports of weapons to Saudi Arabia have shifted to digital advocacy. On March 25, they launched online social media protests against these sales of arms which are being used in the conflict in Yemen.  
  • On March 26, nine doctors who are part of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) published a powerful letter warning of the global health crisis that would be caused by nuclear war. They wrote, “Doctors and nurses are overwhelmed responding to the global health crisis we are already facing. We cannot afford to take on another one, not least one that we have the power to prevent. Responsible nations must join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, taking collective global action for the health of our people and our planet.”
  • On March 30, the United Nations officially announced that the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), originally scheduled for the end of April, will be postponed to a date no later than April 2021. 
  • The Federal Foreign Office Berlin hosted an online Forum for Supporting the 2020 Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems on April 1-2. The forum, originally planned as an in-person meeting, sought to advance discussions at the next Convention on Conventional Weapons GGE, scheduled for June. It was organized into three working sessions: defining the human role in the use of lethal force, developing and elaborating the guiding principles, and possible elements of the normative and operational framework. Participants from 63 countries logged in to hear presentations from states, industry representatives, technology experts, and lawyers. For more information, see Reaching Critical Will’s summary of the event.
  • The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots publicly released its Key Elements of a Treaty on Fully Autonomous Weapons, along with an accompanying FAQ, which were developed by the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic. Bonnie Docherty of Harvard Law School and Human Rights Watch presented the papers at the Berlin Forum described above.
  • April 4 marked International Mine Awareness Day. Although the pandemic caused the cancellation of related events, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called upon the world to remember the victims of and those who are vulnerable to landmines, reminding us that “when the world emerges from today’s crisis, they will continue to need our support.”
Bonnie Docherty presents elements of new killer robots treaty at online Berlin Forum. Credit: Elizabeth Minor, 2020

Despite uncertainty around upcoming events, the humanitarian disarmament community will continue to engage in advocacy work remotely. Please share any examples of ongoing diplomacy, creative advocacy, or online events during this period of social distancing by sending an email to